Szabo, Kingsford: Kings of Court Again

May 28, 2015

By Keith Shelton
Special for Second Half

KINGSFORD — Kingsford's Adam Szabo considers himself a hockey player first and a tennis player second.

Yet, one look at the swing of the reigning Upper Peninsula Division 1 No. 1 singles champ reveals a talent above and beyond the rest of the field. A powerful "flick of the wrist" as he would call it, that most players would envy.

Szabo had it all working for him again Wednesday at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 Tennis Finals at Kingsford High School, leading his team to its second U.P. championship in the last three years.

"Adam had it going the whole season. He never let up once," said Szabo's head coach Mark Shanks.

Szabo wrapped up a dominant season, capped by his 6-0, 6-0 victory over Josh Downs of Marquette in the No. 1 singles final. Not only did Szabo go undefeated this season, he didn't drop a set. Szabo has only one loss over the last three seasons; Downs has the distinction of putting the lone blemish on Szabo's outstanding career at Kingsford.

It's a loss the Kingsford senior wishes he had back.

"That was a pretty rough match on my part. An off day, you could say," Szabo said of his loss to Downs last season. "I wish I could have that match last year back, but this was a great end to the road. I couldn't have asked for anything better."

Szabo said he holds scholarship offers from several Division II and III colleges to continue his tennis career, but isn't sure that's where his heart is.

"There's some schools talking, but I don't know if I want to," Szabo said. "I don't put a lot of time into this. I might go to college, enlist in the National Guard. I could play; I'm just not sure I want to."

Shanks is certain Szabo was a key part to the Flivvers' resurgence in tennis.

"I've known Adam since he was a second-grader, hanging out at the courts all the time near my house," he said. "I can't take credit for everything he's got; God gave him a lot of gifts, but I was out there to throw him a lot of balls.

"He's one of my top players,” Shanks added. “His brother who is four years apart was also a U.P. champ all four years. They're both good hockey players. Their father (Tony Szabo) gave them good genetics. He played on Northern Michigan University's national championship team in 1991."

Kingsford won the title with 16 points, winning five of eight flights. They were followed by Negaunee at 12, Marquette 10, Menominee 10, Gladstone 1, and Escanaba 1.

Also winning titles for the Flivvers were Chris Roell at No. 3 singles, Alek Shanks at No. 4 singles, Dan Harrington and Joe Gregory at No. 1 doubles, and Noah Voss and Austin VanPembrook at No. 3 doubles.

Harrington and Gregory won the No. 1 doubles title for the second straight year, battling out a heavily contested match against Karl Bittner and Alex Roth of Negaunee 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

"We had our ups and downs today," said Harrington. "It was a little shakier than the last time we played them. They gave us a tough time."

Added Gregory, "We dropped the second set because we weren't playing aggressive enough. We picked it up at the end though."

Shanks was especially proud of his No. 3 doubles team that finished undefeated despite a switch of partners midway through the season. His son, Alek, won at No. 4 singles, defeating Negaunee's Ben Luke 7-6 (8), 6-2.

"That's the reason I'm still here, truthfully," Shanks said of the opportunity to coach his son. "I would have seen this group of kids through, but he'll keep me around a couple more years. It's always fun to see your own blood and kin out there playing. He lost three times to Luke this season. Last year, it was just the opposite. Alek beat Luke three times and then lost to him in the finals. They reversed roles this year."

The champions certainly earned it on this sporadic weather day. The start of the tournament was delayed three hours due to morning rain. There were further rain delays caused by brief downpours later on. Coaches squeegeed the courts in an effort to dry them faster, while players rested up. Most seemed to think the delays were a welcome reprieve.

"The rain delays actually helped," said Marquette's Noah Gannon, who won the No. 2 singles flight. "I was pretty tired after my semifinal match with Ryan Syrjala (a 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-1 victory). The rain delays gave me a break to re-focus myself and get the job done."

Gannon fought off Menominee's Nathan Nowack in the final 6-3, 7-5, overcoming Nowack's powerful serve.

"It got pretty intense toward the end," said Gannon. "His serve was really hard to return. Eventually, I just pulled it out. I really felt confident in this match. I could feel the momentum coming through after I beat Syrjala"

Negaunee captured the No. 2 doubles flight, and Menominee won the No. 4 doubles flight.

Gladstone and Escanaba each advanced one flight to the semifinals before bowing out. Gladstone head coach Dan Williams had to tip his hat to the champions from Kingsford, who eliminated the Braves' No. 1 doubles team of Tyler Wells and Jeremy Kadish.

"Kingsford is the No. 1 team, so if you're going to lose to any team, you want to go out playing the best," Williams said.

The U.P. title is the third in Kingsford boys tennis history. Prior to the 2013 title, the first came back in 1953. Shanks said the team has had fun trying to compare the 2013 and 2015 teams, but he leans toward the 2015 team.

"This team will go down as the best team record-wise in the history of Kingsford school," he said. "We were 14-0 in dual meets; eight of those were 8-0 shutouts. We were 5-0 in tournaments. This is the first Kingsford team to go undefeated and sweep all five tournaments."

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kingsford's Adam Szabo returns a shot on the way to repeating as U.P. Division 1 champion at No. 1 singles. (Middle) Marquette's Noah Gannon earned the No. 2 singles flight championship. (Photos by Keith Shelton.)

Speedy & Skilled, Krueger Again Boosting Niles' Cross Country, Tennis Teams

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

October 3, 2023

NILES – On any autumn weekday afternoon, Aiden Krueger can be found using his legs to carry him across the campus of Niles High School.

Southwest CorridorAfter cross country practice, the Vikings' senior literally runs over to the tennis courts to work out with the boys tennis team.

The fall dual-sport athlete has managed to make a significant impact on both programs during his career at Niles.

In cross country, Krueger is a two-time Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals qualifier and recently broke a long-standing school record in the 5,000-meter (3.1 mile) race.

In Saturday's Berrien County Meet held at Lake Township Park in Bridgman, Krueger's first-place time of 15:55.5 broke Jeff Ort's 33-year record of 16:05 set in 1992.

Breaking the school record was one of two main goals that Krueger, the Vikings' No. 1 runner, and his head coach Tony Todd and assistant coach Jason Todd set prior to the start of the 2023 season.

"It felt great to take down a school record that's been there for so long. On the day of the Berrien County Meet, my coaches and I talked about how I felt that day. They could tell I was feeling really good, so we went for it," Krueger said. "I felt great the entire race, and my body responded very well. My coaches were at the one and two-mile mark to let me know where I was at. I was able to squeeze out a record time, and the feeling of being able to share that moment with my family, coaches and teammates was unmatched. It's a day that I'll cherish for a very long time."

While Krueger always has shown a natural ability for running, he soon realized he needed to increase his offseason training in order to reach his career goals.

"Aiden is naturally gifted. He broke the eighth-grade two-mile record in cross country, so we knew he was going to be a special runner. What we didn't know at that time was how strong of a runner he was in terms of his mental preparedness. He was a quick study coming into the program as a freshman, but natural ability will only take you so far. There is a lot more that goes into becoming an elite distance runner," Tony Todd said.

Despite running very little over the summer prior to the start of his freshman season, Krueger still managed to post some respectable times in the 17:20s, but he narrowly missed qualifying for the Finals.

Following a couple of years of running track & field for Niles, and with running higher mileage the last three summers, Krueger feels he has prepared himself well enough to attain his ultimate goal of earning all-state (Top 30) at this year's Finals on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Michigan International Speedway.

"Aiden isn't afraid of hard work. He ran 55 miles per week this summer, and up to this point we haven't backed him off from that number very much," said Niles' head coach. "We've been concentrating on consistency, and once the state meet is about a month away we'll start him on more speedwork."

Krueger, a three-time all-Wolverine Conference and all-Regional runner as well, has the opportunity to graduate as one of Niles' most decorated athletes ever with 14 varsity letters.

Well-respected by his teammates, Krueger was selected as one of the Vikings' team captains this fall.

"Aiden is a very positive person and is always encouraging his teammates," said Niles' head coach.

Entering Tuesday's Wolverine Conference tri-meet in Sturgis with the host Trojans and Otsego, Krueger hadn't lost a league race yet and finished first individually in five of Niles' first eight meets. He ran 16:40 or better in five of those meets as well.

As the season progresses and Krueger prepares for this weekend's prestigious Portage Invitational, he knows what he has to do to reach those goals.

"Right now it's real important for me to get out fast and get into a good position so I can figure out when exactly I need to sit back and when I need to move up," Krueger said.

"As we reach the bigger meets like conference and Regionals, there are a lot of good runners. My coaches help me familiarize myself with who is at those races and who I need to go out and run with. I thank God who gave me the ability to run, along with the support of my coaches and family."

Krueger plans to end his competitive running career once he has finished high school. His parents, Robert and Korrie Krueger, own Milano's Pizza in Niles, and his future plans are to help out with the family business or attend trade school.

Krueger didn't play tennis as a freshman, but made an immediate impact as a doubles player the last two years on the varsity. Since cross country is Krueger's priority sport, Niles head boys tennis coach Jill Weber felt it would be more beneficial for the team if he played singles this fall.

Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season."Aiden was real receptive to the change. As coaches, we just thought it would be easier to replace him in singles rather than have a doubles partner be forced to play with someone they weren't familiar with," said Weber, who has coached the Niles boys team the last 18 seasons and the girls squad for 20 years.

Krueger was sporting a record of 13-2 and was undefeated in the Wolverine at No. 2 singles at the end of last week. His only losses came in nonleague matches to Coldwater and Kalamazoo Christian.

"Aiden has an extraordinary work ethic. He works really hard, but at the same time he enjoys it and has fun. He usually only needs two or three games to figure out what he needs to do to win a match," Weber said. "I have so much confidence in him to get the job done."

Weber is amazed at how Krueger juggles his time off the court with school and cross country.

She used Saturday, Sept. 9, as an example of his commitment to both sports.

Krueger started that day competing with the cross country team at the Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix Mini-Meet, a race he won in a then personal-best time of 16:31.4. He then jumped in the car with his parents, who drove him to Mattawan where the Vikings' tennis team was competing in a tournament.

"Mattawan was gracious enough to put Aiden on one of the later courts so he could play all three of his matches once he was finished with his cross country meet," Weber explained.

Krueger won all three of his tennis matches.

"That was a pretty exciting day for Aiden. He just takes it all in stride and isn't a showboat on the court. When he's on the court he has a way of making friends with his opponents and makes good calls and shows good sportsmanship. A lot of people have nothing but good things to say about him," Weber said.

"As far as his ability on the court, Aiden is a very tricky player to figure out and has a lot of weapons. He has a good dropshot, can lob the ball, hit an angle shot or hit an approach shot and draw you out of position."

Krueger is well-respected by his tennis teammates as well.

"Everyone loves Aiden. He likes to joke around, but he truly enjoys every one of his teammates and respects them all equally. He's a good student and had the team over to his house for a team dinner recently," Weber said.

Knowing how important Krueger's senior season of running was to him, Weber spoke with Tony Todd before the year began about his role with the tennis and cross country teams.

"I understood how important running is to Aiden this year. The last thing I want to do is stress a kid out. He's done a nice job for us in tennis, but we're not expecting a great deal out of him. I want him to be able to concentrate on his cross country goals," Weber said.

Krueger's older brother Andrew Krueger played tennis for Niles a few years ago, and that sparked Aiden's interest in the game.

"I participated in some summer tennis camps back when I was in seventh grade. I liked my experience playing doubles the last couple years, but singles is a challenge because you have only yourself to rely on and the court is smaller," Krueger said.

Krueger describes himself as confident on the court, and he considers himself more of baseline player.

"I'm really comfortable on the baseline, and my tennis goals are to just try and finish the year with the best record I can in the conference and help my team do as well as we possibly can," Krueger said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Niles’ Aiden Krueger crosses the finish line after winning his race during a home meet this season against Edwardsburg. (Middle) Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season. (Top photo by Kelley Sweeney/Leader Publications. Middle photo by Scott Novak/Leader Publications.)