Repeat Champs Cranbrook, Greenhills' Oral Reign in Division 3

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for

October 16, 2021

MIDLAND – Since 2011, Ann Arbor Greenhills, Detroit Country Day and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood have dominated the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Boys Tennis Finals.

Saturday was no exception at the Midland Tennis Center.

Heading into the semifinal and final rounds, Cranbrook had a one-point lead over DCD with Greenhills four points behind but with a contender in each of the four singles flights.

But strong in singles and doubles, Cranbrook repeated its 2020 championship, edging both Greenhills and Country Day. Cranbrook won with 32 points, while DCD had 27. Greenhills was third with 25.

The No. 1 singles showdown was a repeat of last year’s with senior Mert Oral of Greenhills facing Cranbrook junior Owen DeMuth. Last year Oral won 6-0, 6-1 as No. 1 singles was the only individual championship contested due to COVID-driven Finals format changes.

On Saturday, Oral was gunning for his third straight title.

“We’ve played a couple of times this year, and things didn’t go my way,’’ said DeMuth heading into the match. “I’m looking to change things.’’

“I’ve played him three times this year and won all three,’’ said Oral. “I don’t know if there’s an advantage there. We know each other, and we’re going out there to do our best.’’

Up 2-1 in the second set, DeMuth started cramping in his left leg – limiting his mobility and evaporating his chance at the upset. He ended up retiring trailing 5-3.

“It’s kind of surreal right now,’’ said Oral. “Heading into this year, I definitely felt the pressure after winning the last two state titles. I couldn’t take a match or a practice off because I knew I was a target. I tried to stay focused and not think about the undefeated season and defending what I had done the last two years. I had seen everyone so many times, and I knew everyone was gunning for me.

Detroit Country Day tennis“I’ll always remember my teammates. I can’t believe it’s over. More than success on the court, (I’ll cherish) the relationships and memories with my teammates and coaches.’’

Cranbrook’s No. 2 doubles team of Jacob Coburn and Sebs Taubman defeated Country Day’s Aiden Khagany and Clay Hartje, 6-4, 6-7 (4-6), 6-3 in a matchup between past Finals flight champions.

“My partner and I have played these guys before; they’re a really good team,’’ said Coburn. “They’ve won a state championship; we’ve won a state championship. We lost to them this year.

“We won the first set. They came back on us and won the second. We got it together in the third. It was 2-2 and we have a chance to break and (Tabuman) hit one down the line for the break.’’

Coburn credited the championship to great leadership.

“We have four great captains, and this is just a solid group,’’ said Coburn. “We have some young kids coming up who are going to be good. I didn’t join the team until my junior year. It’s a great overall program.’’

In No. 4 singles, sophomore Caden Che of Cranbrook beat top seed Kabir Rajendra of Ann Arbor Greenhills 6-4, 6-5 before Rajendra retired due to injury.

“I’m in awe,’’ said Che. “This was a great tournament. I’m happy to be here, and it’s great to win.’’

At No. 3 singles, Kabir’s brother, Chakor, won 6-3, 6-0 against Patrick Tiwari of Cranbrook.

At No. 1 doubles, Country Day’s Alex Pollak and Petros Kalabat upset top-seeded Tanner Warners and Dream Kwon of Grand Rapids Christian, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2.

At No. 2 singles, Rishi Verma of Greenhills held off Ian Pinnoo of St. Clair 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (6-4).

Country Day’s No. 4 doubles team of Razi Nassif and Aayush Dagar beat Aryan Tiwari and Praneel Pillarisetty of Kingswood, 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.

Cranbrook’s Ryan Michaels and Andrew Fink bettered Sam Van Schepen and Ethan DeBlecourt of Grand Rapids Christian, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, at No. 3 doubles.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Cranbrook Kingswood’s Owen DeMuth returns a volley during Friday’s opening rounds at Midland Tennis Center. (Middle) Detroit Country Day finished runner-up in Division 3. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.) 

Negaunee Caps Near-Perfect Season by Taking Back Top Spot in UPD1

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for

May 31, 2023

KINGSFORD – The Negaunee Miners are no strangers to lifting Upper Peninsula Division 1 tennis title hardware.

Coach Kyle Saari’s program has been a powerhouse over the past 14 years, winning eight championships and finishing runner-up three times. 

Still, the Miners entered the 2023 event having finished second behind Escanaba the last two seasons. But this Negaunee squad was dripping with confidence, having gone through the regular campaign unbeaten and barely losing a set along the way. 

With that in mind, the Miners' championship Wednesday at Kingsford High School was rather expected. But take nothing away from the 12 Negaunee players who shined nearly as brightly as the blazing sun overhead with seven flight championships and one second-place finish to recapture the trophy in emphatic fashion. 

The Miners are presented with the championship trophy Wednesday. The Miners finished the day with 23 points, well in front of 2022 champion Escanaba, which recorded 11 points. Kingsford took third with eight, Marquette placed fourth with six, Westwood wound up fifth with five and Gladstone did not post a win and finished sixth. 

“From day one, they wanted to bring a U.P. title back home,” Saari said of his squad. “So for us to take seven out of eight finals, it’s a great feeling. You have to play your best on the final day, and today they were able to do that. They answered the bell.” 

Frankly, the Miners have done that all season, to a remarkable degree. Negaunee not only beat every opponent they faced along the way, the Miners' players won a staggering 155 of 160 matches they played combined. 

And to cap it all off, Negaunee lost just two of 32 sets on the final day of the season. 

“This year has been kind of unprecedented,” Saari said. “I don’t think you can ever see (155-5) coming. Our 2012 team was 162-7, and this team beat that as far as winning percentage. 

“The unique thing was they were able to answer the challenge every single day. They’re a humble group, they do it the right way and they handle it the right way, too.” 

The Miners swept the four doubles flights. At No. 1 doubles, Jace Turri and James Thomson knocked off Kingsford’s Ben Trevillian and Gabe Lafraniere 6-1, 7-5, while Gavin Jacobson and Gavin Downey defeated Gabe Tossava and Reid Frustaglio of Westwood 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 doubles.

Escanaba’s Dawson Williams sends a backhand at No. 1 singles.In the No. 3 doubles flight, Philip Nelson and Zack Brundage posted a 7-5, 6-2 win over Nick Chaillier and Vincent Guindon of Escanaba, and at No. 4 doubles, Ethan Harris and Brandon Borlace upended Brett Berglund and Isaac Lebouef of Kingsford 6-3, 6-3. 

The only flight that didn’t end with a Negaunee win was No. 1 singles, where Escanaba senior Dawson Williams defeated Negaunee senior Luke Syrjala in two tough sets, 7-6 (2), 6-4. 

Williams was overwhelmed with emotion after putting his name in the U.P. boys tennis record book. 

“I’m lost for words right now,” Williams said, fighting off tears. “I never thought when I was a freshman walking into tennis, I’d be winning a U.P. title at one singles.” 

Williams said the matchup with Syrjala, their fifth duel of the season, came with the added difficulty of playing a left-hander. 

“It is always tough to deal with a lefty, and he’s a very competitive player,” said Williams, who won four of the five matches with Negaunee’s top singles player along the way.

But in the overall competition, Negaunee’s depth was too much for all the other competitors. 

“We feel that from one singles to four singles, on any day, they could have each other’s (flight) numbers, so all four of them were able to push each other during the course of the year to make us better,” Saari said. “And I think that’s true within our doubles lineup, too.” 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Negaunee’s James Thomson returns a volley during a No. 1 doubles match, with partner Jace Turri. (Middle) The Miners are presented with the championship trophy Wednesday. (Below) Escanaba’s Dawson Williams sends a backhand during the championship match at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Dennis Mansfield.)