West Catholic Youth is Served, and so is Liggett's Experience

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

October 15, 2022

KALAMAZOO – Simon Caldwell was the top seed at No. 1 singles at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Boys Tennis Finals, but he had to survive a three-set semifinal nailbiter before clinching the title with a two-set championship match victory.

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, sparked by three individual winners, went home with the team championship trophy earning 30 points, Hudsonville Unity Christian was second with 27 points, Traverse City St. Francis third with 22, Big Rapids fourth with 18 and Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep fifth with 17. It was Liggett's fourth team title since 2016.

The singles semifinals were played indoors while several family members and fans from Unity Christian helped dry the outdoor courts.

Caldwell, who is just a freshman at Grand Rapids West Catholic, qualified individually for this weekend. In a semifinal match that lasted 2½ hours with numerous long rallies, he defeated junior Daniel Pero, the fourth seed from Brooklyn Columbia Central, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

In the final, Caldwell bested the second seed, Liggett junior Sebastian Courtright, 6-3, 6-0.

“Both of those guys are great players, and I played really well in both (matches),” Caldwell said.

Leading 4-1 in the third semifinal set, Caldwell started cramping. He lost two match points at 5-3, then started serving underhand.

Once he won the match, fans – crammed in the stands – gave him a standing ovation.

“It happens to the best of us,” the freshman said of cramping. “Daniel is a great player and started to come back on me. Anyone could have won that match.

“I just happened to pull through at the end.”

Courtright, who also played at No. 1 singles last year, said his rival played a good match: “I think he was ultimately more consistent and more experienced.”

Top seed Owen Jackson, a St. Francis sophomore, defeated sixth-seeded Grand Rapids South Christian junior Levi Yaffey, 6-0, 6-0, in the No. 2 final.

Jackson lost just four games during the entire tournament.

“It’s a lot of keeping yourself pumped up and keeping yourself moving and going and always supporting your teammates,” he said. “The work we put in this season really helped, and playing the big schools really helped, like (Midland) Dow, Forest Hill Northern, Forest Hills Central. All those matches help you to push forward and to always grow as a player and as a person.”

At No 3 singles, third seed Micah Riddering, a Unity Christian senior, defeated top seed Chris Bobrowski, a junior from St. Francis, 6-3, 6-1.

Traverse City St. Francis tennisRiddering lost in the first round of No. 3 singles last year and credits his grandfather, Click Groot, with helping him go from worst to first.

“It’s overall consistency,” Riddering said. “I just kept the ball in and waited for him to miss, kept it deep.”

Bobrowski said both played their hardest but “he just had a good day today and a great mindset. He was able to push past me a little bit further.”

Learning from the experience, “It teaches me I might need a little bit stronger mindset during the matches and that it only comes down to one match at the end when you make it to the Finals, so you’ve got to play your best and your hardest.”

After dropping the first set at No. 4 singles, Liggett sophomore Charlie Cooksey, the third seed, defeated Allegan junior Jackson Morrie, the top seed, 2-6, 6-1 6-2.

In the first set, “I was hitting the ball too hard and not putting it in,” Cooksey said. “In the second set, I told myself to reset, brought myself together and pulled it through.”

Jackson went from playing No. 4 doubles his freshman year to No. 2 doubles last year, making it to the quarterfinals both times.

This season, “I put in some hard work and some effort,” he said, noting that his strength is his quickness on the court.

While Liggett’s No. 3 doubles team, top seeds Steve Wheatley and Griffin Marchal, won their Finals match, 6-0, 6-3, against third seeds Carson Poole and David Ansley of St. Francis, their semifinals victory clinched the team championship for Liggett.

“Ever since the start of the year, we started off 18-0 and just clicked right away,” Wheatley said. “We knew coming into this it was our tournament to win.”

Liggett coach Mark Sobieralski said the pair had some great wins over teams in higher divisions.

“They’re both hockey players as their first sport; they’re just athletes,” Sobieralski said. “Stevie (a senior) is the guy at the net. He’s all over. He’s got incredible hands.

“Griffin, the freshman, we had him back, keep the ball in play, set up Stevie. They were like a match made in heaven.”

Sobieralski was especially proud of his No. 1 doubles team of senior Campbell Marchal and junior Tommy Ugval.

“They struggled so much during the beginning of the year,” he said. “They had a hard time and weren’t really together. They were the No. 4 seed and had a below .500 record on the season

“We play a really difficult schedule, but they were so together all weekend and pulled the whole thing out from being the fourth seed.”

The pair defeated top seeds Charlie King and Derek Berta of St. Francis, 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3, in the semifinal before besting second seeds Jacob Lanning and Will Anama, from Unity Christian, 7-5, 6-1, in the final.

Unity Christian coach Bradley Miedema figured his team was headed for third place but was thrilled with the second -place trophy.

“I told the guys if we all just take care of what we can do seed-wise and pull some upsets, there’s a chance we can win it,” he said.

Seniors Andrew Miller and Dominic Hop listened to their coach.

“They were the No. 5 seeds (at No. 2 doubles) and now they (won) their Final,” Miedema said. “That’s one I’m most proud of this year.”

Unity Christian loses eight seniors from his varsity, but Miedema said with 24 junior varsity players, “I think we’ll be able to slot in some good players next year.”

At No. 4 doubles, second seeds Elijah Haynes and Ari Ziska of Big Rapids defeated top seeds Ryan King and Niko Cooksey from Liggett, 6-3, 6-4.

St. Francis coach Dane Fosgard said this year’s team included six players who had never been to the Finals.

“It was definitely a new experience for them,” he said. “They did great, but a couple of our flights lost in the first round, so I think they’re going to be hungry for some wins next year.

“Third place isn’t all that bad, even though we expected first or second.”

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PHOTOS by High School Sports Scene.

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.)