This Time, Westwood Earns Finals Edge

May 29, 2019

By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half

ISHPEMING – The Westwood and West Iron County boys tennis teams have had some good battles the past few years at the Upper Peninsula Division 2 Finals, with the two squads finishing as the last two standing for the last three years. 

That was the case again Wednesday afternoon with the championship coming down to the last remaining flight, the No. 4 singles match – and it was a good one.

After Westwood’s Matt Paavo lost the first set, he won the next two to take the match (2-6, 6-4, 6-3) and clinch for the Patriots their third title in four years as they edged the Wykons by one point.

“We know we’ve had a really good run against West Iron for a while, not only with boys, but girls too,” Patriots head coach Chris Jackson said. “The last couple of years, it’s come down to one point. Last year, it was the same exact scenario. I’m not sure what doubles flight it was, but it came down to that last one and whoever won that was going to win. Today it came down to four singles. I’m really happy for the kids.”

The pressure may have been on Paavo, but the junior shook it off, even after dropping the first set.

“There was a decent amount of pressure,” Paavo said. “My coach told me before I went into the final set that it was down to me, but my teammates were there and that really helped to have that support.”

Jackson praised Paavo’s performance and said Paavo might’ve learned something after falling to West Iron’s No. 4 earlier this season.

“(Paavo) lost to this kid a week or two ago in two close sets,” Jackson said. “I think after that, he felt like if he played well, he’d have an opportunity. After losing that first set, I’m not sure if it kicked him into gear. But it was kind of like, if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down the way we want to, and play your game. Matt’s a very good four singles player.”

It was a rough way to end the day for the Wykons, who were looking to stay on top after winning the Finals last season for the first time since 2013. Despite the hard defeat, WIC head coach Joe Serbentas was feeling positive about how his team performed. 

“We got three championships, and Westwood is a really solid team,” he said. “They’re a senior-loaded team and they were probably the slight favorite going in just because of all those seniors and that experience, but we have 10 sophomores in our lineup and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.

“I thought it was a pretty good season and winning a Great Northern (Conference) championship, that was special too. That was back-to-back years for us. We feel pretty happy with the year. We would’ve liked to have won a championship, but we’ll take the conference championship and know that we’re young.”

WIC and Westwood split the singles matches with Holden Ross (No. 1) and James Swanson (No. 2) earning wins for the Wykons and Chad Pohlman (No. 3) getting a victory for the Patriots.

In doubles action, Munising played the spoiler role and kept the Patriots and Wykons from being the final two teams in each flight. The Mustangs ended up winning the No. 1 doubles title as Landon Peters and Eli Werner emerged with a two-set win, while teammates Russ Holloway and Guillermo Sese made it to the No. 2 final before falling to Westwood’s Hudson Uren and Connor Traver.

“(Peters and Werner) played lights-out today,” Mustangs head coach Rod Gendron said. “They had an excellent season, and they went out on top. They played a really good match at the right time today. 

“We knew right away that we weren’t probably going to be legit in the mix for one or two, but we knew three was realistic and that’s where we ended up at. We’re happy with our performance today as a team. I was lucky to have a bunch of freshmen come out, and I had six seniors and it’s been a good crew.”

Werner said a simple strategy helped Peters and him emerge as U.P. champions and added that it helps that they’ve had some experience playing together.

“Just consistency,” Werner said. “Getting all our shots in, and our serving. Getting them in to get points started. We’re friends off and friends on. Last year was our first year together, so we’ve had two full years to work together.”

The Patriots and Wykons split the other two doubles flights. Westwood’s Nathan Ostlund and Jack Mattias took the No. 3 match, while WIC’s Cole Alexa and Lucas Shovald finished on top in the No. 4 match.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Westwood's Jacob Adriano, left, returns a volley during doubles play at the Upper Peninsula Division 2 Finals. (Middle) Ishpeming's Drake Sundberg serves during his doubles match. (Photos by Corey Kelly.)

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

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for

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.)