Troy, Northville's Kumar Lead Charge of 1st-Time Champions

By Pam Shebest
Special for

October 16, 2021

KALAMAZOO — The rain poured outside, but the thunderous roars were bouncing off the walls inside the Markin Racquet Center at Kalamazoo College, boosting Troy’s boys tennis team to its first MHSAA Finals championship

The senior-laden Colts amassed 30 points at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship tournament that lasted until well into Friday evening.

Bloomfield Hills finished second with 26 points, followed by Northville with 23, Novi with 21, and Ann Arbor Pioneer at 17.

An ecstatic Colts coach Brian Miska praised his entire team for its play. Troy won two flights but picked up necessary points by advancing deep into other brackets.

“This (championship) is the first one in the history of the Troy High boys program,” he said. “It’s a very special day for the city.”

Miska said the title is especially significant because “we don’t have any super star USTA players, nationally-ranked kids. We just have a bunch of guys who work their (butts) off. That means a lot to us.”

Always tough Okemos, which won the Division 1 title last year, moved to Division 2 this year.

“We played them this year, beat them twice this year,” Miska said “But they’re still a strong team.

“We always want the competition. This group doesn’t fear anyone.”

Miska, Troy’s head coach since 2012, has a strong connection with his team.

“We have seven seniors in the lineup, nine seniors overall,” he said.

“It’s been really special for me because I’ve known a lot of these kids since they were in middle school and 10th graders, when they were new varsity players. Seeing their progression over the years has been really fun for me.”

Two of those players are the No. 1 doubles team, seniors Andrew Wang and Nikhil Tatineni, who entered as the top seeds.

Their semifinal win clinched the team title.

However, they ran into a tough Northville team in the final, losing to second seeds Quinn Cassar and Adi Pundhir, both seniors, 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(3).

That finale was the top seeds’ second consecutive three-setter.

“I was tired, but in all honesty, the nerves and all the energy here was so much, I wasn’t worried about the energy,” Tatineni said. 

“I went in with the same mentality. I think in the (semifinal) match, I was more focused, more zoned in. I just blocked out everything else and focused on my match.”

Wang said the short break between matches was a factor.

“For me, it was definitely nerves,” he said. “We came from a three-set match against Huron and 30 or 45 minutes later we had to play Northville.

“We were trying to quickly drink water, do everything, but it’s all right. We got a (team) state championship.”

This was the first season the Northville duo was paired, but that was definitely not a problem.

“We’ve known each other since middle school, so the chemistry’s there,” Pundhir said.

“Throughout the season, we’ve been practicing hard, slowly getting better throughout the season. I think this was our big moment to win.”

Cassar said the crowd was a motivating factor.

Bloomfield Hills tennis“It’s the best crowd we’ve had my four years,” he said. “It was so loud. We had other teams cheering for us, too, which was awesome also.

“We got loud, we started talking to each other, slowing it down. We started thinking through it more and things started going our way.”

One of the premier matches of the tournament was a battle between a pair of sophomore seed-breakers, who are friends off the court but faced each other for the first time in high school competition.

Northville’s Sachiv Kumar, the fifth seed, defeated unseeded Clay Anderson, from Rochester, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5) for the No. 1 singles title.

The three-hour match was the second in a row for Kumar, who upset top seed Noah Roslin, a Bloomfield Hills senior, 6-7(6), 6-0, 7-5, in the semifinals.

Following finals match, Kumar was sprawled in his courtside chair, catching his breath.

“I didn’t think I had enough energy left from the last match,” he said. “I guess I did. I just went for it.

“I actually practiced with him last week.”

Anderson, who upset the second and sixth seeds to advance, knew what to expect from his friend.

“I know his game, but I feel like it’s tough for me to go against him,” he said. “He’s got good ground strokes on the baseline and controls the point pretty fast.

“I knew his game so I knew I had to be ready for what he had.”

Bloomfield Hills had the top seeds at all four singles flights, and won the other three.

At No. 2, junior Daniel Stojanov defeated third seed Derek Blackwell, from Troy, 6-0, 6-0.

“I think it was the confidence factor, playing him for the third time,” Stojanov said. “I was confident in my forehand today, which helped a lot.”

The Black Hawks had a young team with Roslin the only senior.

A key for next season is “I think our young team improving in the offseason, getting better every day and keep being excited about tennis,” said Stojanov, who also won a Finals title at No. 2 doubles as a freshman.

At No. 3 singles, Pierce Shaya defeated second seed Noah Vogel, of Ann Arbor Pioneer, 6-1, 6-0.

A freshman playing in his first Finals, Shaya said: “It’s really fun. Four amazing matches. It started off pretty rough (Thursday) with the rain, but everybody was patient and it was run really well.”

Shaya lost just seven games the entire tournament.

“I’ve trained my whole life for this, and it’s been an amazing adventure.,” he said  “A lot of wins and a lot of losses, and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

In a No. 4 singles showdown of sophomores, Aaron Rose defeated Troy’s Haresh Anand, the second seed, 6-2, 6-2.

Rose lost just six games the entire tournament, and drew confidence from having won his two earlier meetings with Anand this season.

“I expect to see him a lot more,” Rose said. “It was a fun match.”

Troy had the top seeds in all four doubles flights, winning two with senior Aryan Gupta and junior Srihari Ananthalwan at No. 2 and seniors Pranav Bellad and Zach Saad at No. 3.

Bloomfield Hills’ fourth seeds, freshman Dominic Pascarela and sophomore Ethan Endelman won the No. 4 doubles title.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Troy celebrates its first MHSAA Finals championship in boys tennis Friday evening. (Middle) Bloomfield Hills’ Pierce Shaya returns a volley during Thursday’s opening rounds on the way to eventually winning No. 3 singles and helping the Black Hawks finish second as a team. (Top photo by Pam Shebest; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)


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 Scott Novak/Leader Publications. Middle photo by Kelly Sweeney/Leader Publications.)