Top-Flight Dow Returns to Top of D2

October 15, 2016

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

HOLLAND – From 2009 through 2013, the Midland Dow boys tennis team ruled Division 2 tennis in the Lower Peninsula with five consecutive MHSAA Finals championships.

After placing second the last two seasons, the Chargers were determined to bring the title back to Midland this season.

That was exactly what Dow did, as the Chargers captured this year’s Division 2 tournament title at Hope College. Dow finished three points ahead of last year’s co-champions Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central and Portage Central.

Dow left no question as to which Division 2 team was the best. The Chargers totaled 35 team points, as they had players vying for championships in all eight flights. Forest Hills Central, winners of the last two Division 2 titles, placed second with 25 points, while last year’s other champion, Portage Central, and Okemos tied for third place with 18 points.

"Sometimes you forget how this moment feels,” said Midland Dow coach Terry Schwartzkopf. “Everything has to go just right. This feels really good.”

Dow received strong performances from its singles lineup as the Chargers won titles at No. 1 and No. 3 singles.

In one of the highlight matches of the finals, Midland Dow senior Varun Shanker held off Kalamazoo Loy Norrix freshman Reed Crocker in a marathon three-set match 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-6 (8). Shanker, who won the No. 3 singles title as a freshman, closed out his high school career in a big way by outlasting Crocker in a grueling third set.

“I am really speechless at this time,” Shanker said. “I felt pretty balanced coming into the match today. It's a storybook ending. Our team had its share of ups and downs this season, but we pulled through at the end.”

Crocker, just a freshman, came into the tournament as the second seed behind Shanker and sent a message to the rest of the singles players in Division 2 that he will be a force to be dealt with the next three seasons.

At No. 3 singles, Midland Dow’s Tyler Conrad turned back Daniel Gorelik of Okemos 6-4, 6-2. Conrad was determined to claim the title as he finished runner-up at No. 3 singles last year.

Cameron Raedy of Portage Central proved to be a big surprise of the tournament in singles action. Coming in seeded fourth at No. 2 singles, Raedy upended top-seeded Gabe Vidinas of Birmingham Groves 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals. Raedy closed out his memorable weekend in the finals when he defeated second-seeded Anish Middha of Dow 6-2, 7-5.

The title was actually the second straight for Raedy as he was part of Portage Central’s No. 1 doubles team that won last year.

“It's surreal right now,” Raedy said. “Last year I was state champ as part of the No. 1 doubles team, and to win it as the No. 3 singles this year is quite a two-year run.”

A pair of familiar foes met each other at No. 4 singles. Deniz Kalfa of Okemos brought home a title in another match of a lower seed defeating a higher seed when he upended top-seeded Saketh Kamaraju of Midland Dow. Kalfa, seeded second, defeated Kamaraju 7-6 (4), 6-1.

“It was a pretty tough season, but I want to thank my team for all the support they gave me,” Kalfa said. “I had lost three times to the player I played today, but during today's match I saw I could win this one, and that eased my mind."

In doubles action, Midland Dow used the same formula for success. Dow won at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles and placed runner-up at No. 2 and No. 4.

At No. 1 doubles, Dow’s top-seeded tandem of JJ Kirkman and Aditya Middha teamed up to hold off the second-seeded Grosse Pointe South team of Jack Williams and Ben Zacharia in a three-set struggle 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.

At No. 3 doubles, Dow pulled off an upset as the second-seeded team of Daniel Zhang and Gopal Parthasarathy turned back Forest Hills Central’s top-seeded duo of Peyton Herbert and Mike Battiste 6-2, 6-3.

At No. 2 doubles, Forest Hills Central turned the tables on Midland Dow. Central’s second-seed pair of Aidan Rynbrandt and Jack Ziegler held off Dow’s top-seeded duo of Sagar Kamaraju and Noah Nichols 6-4, 6-1.

The win was especially sweet for the Rangers duo as they had come up short during the regular season against the foes from Dow.

“I enjoyed every moment today,” Ziegler said. “We had lost to this Dow doubles team twice this year, but we were confident coming off winning the conference and Regional championships. Everything was clicking for us today.”

Ziegler’s partner was just as happy.

“This is an unbelievable feeling,” Rynbrandt said. “I am full of joy. We felt like they figured out us the first two times we played them this year, but today was our day. We executed this time; that was the difference.”

At No. 4 doubles, Birmingham Groves' third-seeded pair of Charlie Michaud and Aerik Joe downed Seaholm's fourth-seeded Aiden O'Neill and Will Appleford 6-2, 7-5. O'Neill and Appleford had downed Midland Dow's top-seeded Ryan Killmaster and Jeroen Uesback in three sets in the semifinal.

For Dow, regaining the Division 2 title was a total team and family effort with everyone pulling together.

“What I will remember about this group is the unity,” Schwartzkopf said. “It's been a while since we've had it, but this group really cared for each other. My captains and the parents also played a key role. They were the ones who paid attention to the little details, from stretching to nutrition. It made a difference this season.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Midland Dow’s Varun Shanker returns a volley during his championship match at No. 1 singles. (Middle) Portage Central’s Cameron Raedy pounds a return at No. 2 singles. (Click to see more from

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.)