Rivals Share D1 Title, Baylis Ends on Top

October 19, 2019

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half

MIDLAND – Tom Pullen was just glad to be in the hunt.

The 28-year Ann Arbor Pioneer head coach, who is 75½ years old, had his team in a dead heat with rival Huron for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 boys tennis title Saturday at the Midland Tennis Center. They were separated by one point, 21-20, going into semifinal play.

“I don’t care whether we win or lose,’’ Pullen said at that point. “This is a Cinderella group. We’re young. I’m losing three great net players, but it has been a long time since we’ve been in contention. This keeps me revitalized. We’ve had a great year. We knew Huron would be here. They’re a powerful team. We’ve beaten them a few times, and they’ve beaten us. We don’t really care about rankings. The kids have beaten teams ranked higher than them, so it doesn’t matter.

“No matter what, it has been a great year.’’

Two rounds later, the rivals finished in a tie and as co-champions. Pioneer won its last three matches to deadlock the score 27-27, capturing a share of the crown.

The key match late in the day was at No. 3 doubles with top-seeded Huron pair Sammy Clyde and Jacob Hejazi against Pioneer’s Drake Malcolm and Evan Roopas for the fourth time this year.

Clyde had been part of a doubles title last year and needed a win with Hejazi to clinch the team championship.

“We tied the first match because we couldn’t finish,’’ said Hejazi of the rivalry with Pioneer. “We won one and they won one, so this is the tie breaker. It’s easier because we know their weaknesses, but they also know ours.’’

Pioneer prevailed, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 to pave the way for a possible team tie.

While No. 3 doubles was fighting it out, Isaac Herrenkohl also kept Pioneer’s hopes alive with a 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over top seed Noah Fascewski of Clarkston in No. 3 singles.

Pioneer and Huron have not only battled in conference play, but on the big stage.

Bloomfield Hills won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, but before that the River Rats won in 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2008.

Pullen, who started playing tennis when he was 35, and Pioneer won the fall and spring team title in 2007 along with championships in 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002. Pioneer tied for first in 2001 with Birmingham Brother Rice.

Despite being out of the team picture, Clarkston had three players make it to a singles final at Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

At No. 1 singles, Clarkston’s Luke Baylis took advantage of a fatigued J.J. Etterbeek of Birmingham Rice to capture the crown, 6-2, 6-0. He joined his sister Lexi as a Finals champ, as she won No. 2 singles in 2011. Luke Baylis had made the No. 1 semifinals the last two seasons and finished No. 2 runner-up as a freshman.

“I tried to play my game and not focus on what was going on around me,’’ said Luke Baylis. “I could tell he was a little tired. I just worked the points really well and tried to stay in every point. This was my last match, so I tried to grind out every point.’’

Huron’s first flight title of the tournament came in No. 2 doubles as Nick Grosh and TJ Bai downed Pioneer’s Brendan Karsch and Aditya Abbaraju 6-1, 6-2.

“We’ve played them five times this year and five times last year,’’ said Bai, a junior. “We’ve been the top seed the last three years, and I think the past two years we choked. We got beat in the semis.

“This was important for my team. I thought we controlled the match from the start. Because the team title was at stake, the pressure was on.’’

Moments after their victory, Huron’s top-seeded No. 4 doubles team of Nikhil Gandikota and Vincent Tremonti finished defeating Northville’s Rachit Jain and Rohith Kesamneni, 6-3, 6-4.

“We beat them during the regular season, but during the state tournament anything can happen,’’ said Tremonti.

Said Gandikota: “They were hard, but both matches against Northville and (in the semifinal Detroit) CC were tough. The Catholic Central match went three sets and that was rough; we started out slow. Against Northville we upped our energy and maintained it.’’

Old friends battled it out in No. 2 singles with second-seed Frank Piana from Clarkston facing top seed Jan Nallani from Troy. Nallani made it two wins on the year against Piana with a 7-5, 6-1 victory.

“We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old,’’ said Piana, the No. 3 singles champ in 2018. “I’ve had just one loss this season, and it was to him. We’re good friends. It puts a different spin on the match.’’

Okemos’ No. 1 doubles team of Druv Talluri and Siddharth Nagisetty formed an experienced duo. Talluri and Nagisetty both won 2017 doubles titles in Division 2 with different teammates – Nagisetty with Rohan Shah at No. 2 and Talluri with Deniz Kalfa at No. 3. In 2018, Talluri won No. 2 with Shrey Patel and Nagisetty was runner-up at No. 3 with Aditya Kandula.

This time, Talluri and Nagisetty teamed up to form the top seed in the top flight and in the final defeated Huron’s Max Brodkey and Anvit Rao 6-1, 6-3.

“After my win freshman year in 2017, some of the players changed positions and I lost my then-partner to a singles position” said Nagisetty. “We lost in the finals in 2018, so this year I was a little more focused on my fitness and conditioning. I cramped up last year in the finals. I was not going to let it happen again.

“It was a higher flight, one doubles. Druv is great. He has a great forehand and backhand and has a super good volley. That was awesome to end the season this way!’’

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston’s Luke Baylis returns a volley during his No. 1 singles semifinal at Midland Tennis Center. (Middle) Ann Arbor Huron’s Max Brodkey and Anvit Rao get together during their No. 1 doubles semifinal win. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

West Iron Makes Every Point Count Winning Finals Title by Slimmest of Margins

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for MHSAA.com

May 30, 2024

KINGSFORD – After a two-year absence, the West Iron County Wykons returned to the top of Division 2 boys tennis in the Upper Peninsula on Wednesday with their razor-thin victory over host Iron Mountain and 2023 champion Ishpeming at Kingsford High School.

With two flight championships and four runner-up finishes, West Iron County recorded 14 points compared to 13 for Iron Mountain and 12 for Ishpeming.

Junior No. 2 singles player Zander Birmingham and the No. 3 doubles duo of senior Ethan Isaacson and junior Keenan Dobson-Donati led the Wykons to their first team championship since 2021.

Second-year coach Jim Anderson was effusive in his praise for his squad.

“I’m thrilled beyond words,” Anderson said. “They put in a lot of work this season and had a ton of commitment, and that showed on the court today. They played with a ton of heart and a lot of grit, and they dug deep for the win.”

Birmingham rolled to his second U.P. championship after having won the title at No. 4 singles in 2023, losing just two games in his two matches on Wednesday, both to Munising’s Levi Westcomb in the final.

“To move up from (No. 4) singles to (No.2) singles and still have the same success means a lot to me,” Birmingham said. “I’m very, very excited and just proud of myself in general.”

At No. 3 doubles, Issacson and Dobson-Donati earned a bye into the second round, then won by forfeit in the semifinals before fighting off Iron Mountain’s Ben Truong and Carter Kassin 6-4, 7-5 in the final.

“Two of the hardest-working kids on the court,” Anderson said of his No. 3 doubles pairing. “Ethan’s a senior and one of the leaders on the team this year, and Keenan’s been moving up the ranks. They had a goal in mind today, and they achieved it.”

In the top flights, Munising’s Carson Kienitz recorded his third U.P. title – his first in singles – by defeating West Iron County’s Caleb Strom 6-4, 6-1 at No. 1, while Iron Mountain’s brother tandem of Reece and Oskar Kangas knocked off Hunter Smith and Caden Luoma 7-5, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles.

Iron Mountain senior Reece Kangas lines up a forehand shot during the No. 1 doubles championship decider.Kienitz, a two-time U.P champion at No. 1 doubles, scuffled a bit early in his match against Strom but rolled to the victory once he got going.

“Pretty much every match that I’ve played I start out really slow and I lose the first couple of games,” the 6-foot-4 junior said. “But I start to learn my opponent and I get in my groove, and I’m able to climb back up and finish it.”

Kienitz did so Wednesday against Strom, who came into the tournament as the No. 1 seed and had defeated Kienitz in their previous two matches.

“I knew he hits it really hard, and he’s a good player,” Kienitz said of Strom. “But instead of playing his game and hitting the ball back hard and making mistakes, I was just playing my game and hitting to his backhand and pushing the net.”

In the top doubles flight, the Kangas brothers also started slowly in the final but won 13 of the final 18 games to record their first U.P. title in their only attempt.

Reece said he had to convince his 6-foot-6 brother Oskar, an all-U.P. Dream Team selection in basketball, to take up tennis this season.

“I definitely had to talk him into it,” said Reece, who played singles his previous seasons. “He was thinking of doing some other sports and I told him, ‘If you and me play doubles this year, it will be a year to remember, especially for me in my senior year.”

To close out their “year to remember,” the Kangas brothers needed to gain some revenge on Smith and Luoma, who had won the previous matchup in the Mid-Peninsula Conference championship.

“We knew it would be tough, they are a quick team and they retrieve a lot, so it’s hard to score on them,” Oskar said of the Ishpeming pair. “But we had a sense of urgency today. It was our last (match) no matter what, so we wanted to go out with a big win.”

The Mountaineers posted two other flight championships. Freshman Braden Kassin outlasted West Iron County’s Dominick Brunswick 7-6, 7-6 at No. 3 singles, and freshman Malakai Broersma fought back to upend West Iron’s James White 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at No. 4 singles.

Ishpeming won the other two flights. Hayden Hares and Tramon Gauthier knocked off Iron Mountain’s Geno Schinderle and Dylan Lindgren 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2 doubles, while Adam Maki and Ethan Corp topped West Iron’s Jackson Secord and Matthew Swenski 6-3, 6-3 at No. 4 doubles.

PHOTOS (Top) Munising's Carson Kienitz returns a serve during the No. 1 singles championship match at the MHSAA U.P. Division 2 Final on Wednesday in Kingsford. (Middle) Iron Mountain senior Reece Kangas lines up a forehand shot during the No. 1 doubles championship decider. (Photos by Sean Chase.)