6 Flight Champs Key Westwood 4-Peat

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

October 2, 2019

KINGSFORD — Ishpeming Westwood continued its stranglehold on the Upper Peninsula Division 2 girls tennis championship Wednesday, winning for the fourth straight season.

Westwood, which gained at least a share of title for also the 10th time in 11 years, posted 22 points and was followed by West Iron County with 15 and Iron Mountain with 11.

“This is an exciting day for the girls,” said Westwood coach Sarah Massie. “One of our goals was definitely to win the M-PCs (Mid-Peninsula Conference). After a big win over Negaunee, we were ready to go. We didn’t have a dual meet with West Iron because it got rained out. We didn’t play them until today. The girls just had to play their game, and it worked out for them.”

The Patriots won 6-of-8 flights, including all four singles on this cloudy, chilly and windy day.

Senior Madelyn Koski became a two-time Finals champion by taking a 6-1, 6-0 decision from Iron Mountain’s Macy McCormick at No. 1 singles. She previously was part of a No. 3 doubles winner in 2016 and was runner-up at No. 1 singles in 2018.

“I’m pretty happy,” said Koski. “Every team I’ve been on worked pretty hard. It has really been fun to be on these teams. I’m pretty sad to see it end.

“This is probably the best I played in the U.P. Finals. I just learned as I went on. It was definitely a little windy, and I had to adjust my game – although, I’m used to the wind.”

Classmate Tessa Leece won for the fourth consecutive Finals, topping Iron Mountain’s Claire Mongrain 6-3, 6-2 at No. 2 singles. Leece teamed with Koski in 2016, won No. 4 singles as a sophomore and No. 2 also as a junior. 

“I just focused on hitting good shots and tried to be patient,” said Leece, who also runs on the school’s cross country team. “I knew what to expect, which comes with experience.

“This feels so good. We worked so hard for it. We wanted to end on a good note.”

Jillian Koski added a 6-0, 6-4 triumph over Iron Mountain junior Arianna Morel in No. 3 singles, and Jenna Wealton defeated West Iron’s Olivia Mazurek 6-1, 6-4 at No. 4. Koski had won No. 4 singles last season. 

“I was excited to get to the finals,” said Morel. “She was very consistent, and her groundstrokes were working pretty well. She hit the ball right to me, and I had to play it on the run.”

Westwood juniors Avery Mariuzzo and Emily Nelson outlasted West Iron sophomores Madison Berutti and Aurora Dahl 6-0, 6-7 (3-7), 6-0 for their first No. 3 doubles championship.

“It feels like it was a reset,” said Mariuzzo, who helped the Patriots’ duo regain control with three quick overhand taps in the third set. “I think those shots set the tone. Those definitely gave us a lot of momentum. We just had to refocus.”

Nelson also had some success with overhand taps.

“Once we hit the reset button, we didn’t want to lose again,” she said. “We work real well together. We had been competing with Negaunee and Marquette all year, which prepared us well.”

Westwood junior Claire Gilles and sophomore Natalie Prophet won No. 4 doubles in a 6-0, 6-2 finales over West Iron’s Alyssa Dominicci and Katarina Hemeleski.

“Natalie finishes every play at the net,” said Gilles, who became a two-time champion. “Communication is key. We made sure we switched when the ball went to the other side of the court. We felt we had everything pretty much under control. I definitely wanted to win again. There was a lot of pressure coming in.”

West Iron took the remaining flights, with junior Tori Bociek and senior Eden Golliher defeating Westwood’s Katelyn Antilla and Karlie Patron 6-4, 6-3 to repeat at No. 1 doubles. Emily Nelson and Anna Malmquist dispatched Ellie Miller and Meghan Johnson 6-1, 6-3 at No. 2.

“We hit the angles pretty good,” said Bociek. “Our overhand shots were working pretty good. This is the third U.P. title for both of us. We just tried to play this like any other match. I think this will be a pretty big motivator for next year.”

Iron Mountain matched expectations, according to coach Sharon Ducat.

“We took third place today, and that’s about where I expected we would be,” she said. “Macy, Claire and Arianna made to the finals in singles and played well. Our doubles teams improved upon their results from earlier in the year, and I was happy with their performance. It was a fun and enjoyable season, one which the girls should be proud of.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Westwood's Madelyn Koski returns a volley during her championship match at No. 1 singles Wednesday. (Middle) West Iron's Livea Mazurek returns a shot during a match also at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Matt McCarthy.)

Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 21, 2022

The Negaunee girls tennis team’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals championship won Sept. 28 was its seventh over the last 10 seasons, to go with runner-up finishes the three seasons the Miners didn’t win it all during that time. 

So when coach Kyle Saari says this year’s team stands out among them, that’s actually saying quite a lot.

And what all of it says about his program is pretty defining as well. 

Negaunee is the fifth-biggest tennis school in the Upper Peninsula, but with an enrollment count of 414 has about 700 fewer students than Marquette and even about 235 fewer than the second-biggest tennis school, Escanaba.

And yet, the program may be on its way to getting even stronger coming off this season’s championship, won with 19 points and flight championships at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 2 and 3 doubles and earning Negaunee tennis the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” honor for September. 

“We’ve been fortunate, really beyond the (last) decade, to just get solid groups of athletes out that want to compete. I think what happened, on the girls side anyway, is when we won our first Division 1 title in 2012, the next group that comes in wants to leave their mark and wants to do a little more,” Saari said. “When you have a solid group of leaders throughout the course of the last decade, it’s contagious with the freshmen and even trickles down to the middle school too.”

That might sound like an understatement given the success of the middle school tennis program last year, it’s first. More than 100 students attended, and the middle school has only about 450-500. The tennis program was for only sixth, seventh and eighth graders – so it’s fair to put an estimate at roughly 25 percent of the community’s middle schoolers had a racket in their hands.

They have plenty of standouts to look up to, as both Finals singles champions were freshmen and both doubles pairs finished the fall undefeated. Together, those six players are among 10 total starters who should be back next season. Negaunee will graduate only No. 1 singles Jordan Enright and No. 1 doubles Stella Harris.

Harris and sophomore Madison Frustaglio finished runner-up at the Final, and with No. 2 champs Olivia Lunseth and Sage Juntti and No. 3 winners Kallen Schultz and Madalynn Peters gave the Miners a comfortable predicament in August as Saari believed all six were capable of playing the No. 1 flight. As they powered to titles, Paytin Brunette and Autumn Ring finished out the strong doubles lineup with a runner-up Finals finish at No. 4. 

On the singles side, the freshmen pair of Rheana Nelson at No. 3 and Lilliana Saunders at No. 4 anchored like veterans, joining No. 2 singles runner-up Aubrey Johnson and Enright at the top as all eight flights scored at least one point at the championship tournament. 

Negaunee finished 13-0-1 in dual matches this fall, that lone tie coming midway through the season against more experienced Iron Mountain. The Mountaineers were on the cusp of victory when Nelson stepped in to seize the tie-saving point. 

She and Saunders, because of their inexperience, carried some uncertainty entering this season. They also ended up major reasons why this championship team will continue to stick out among the many the program has celebrated.  

“We felt pretty good about two freshmen stepping into our singles lineup. We knew they were athletic, and we knew they were high-character kids,” Saari said. “But at the same time, under pressure at the end of the year, you don’t know how they’re going to react. 

“Those are two (singles) titles, as time has really went on, it’s put into perspective how special those two flights were for us.”