Country Day Ends Cranes' Title Streak

June 4, 2016

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

HOLLAND – Detroit County Day freshman Elle Hartje could’ve avoided the question; instead, she wanted to know what the situation was when she took the court with her teammate, senior Haley Mullins, in the championship match at No. 1 doubles at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Girls Tennis Finals in Holland.

Detroit Country Day, five-time defending champion Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood and last year’s Division 3 runner-up Grand Rapids Christian were locked in a battle royal for this year’s title. In the second-to-the-last flight title match of the day, Hartje and Mullins took the court to play the Grand Rapids Christian team of Hannah Slenk and McKenzie Moorhead.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Hartje said. “I asked Coach if we had a chance to win the title, and she said if we win our match we would win it. It didn’t make me nervous at all.”

Hartje and Mullins may have felt the nerves early when Christian jumped out to a 5-1 lead. Instead, the pair stayed strong and controlled the match the rest of the way. Hartje and Mullins went on to defeat the Eagles’ team 7-5, 6-2 to give the Yellowjackets the final point it needed to secure the championship.

Detroit Country Day finished with 32 points to edge second-place Grand Rapids Christian by one and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood by two points.

“We just slowed it down and became more consistent,” Mullins said. “Our team has never won state while I’ve been at Country Day, and we really wanted it. It’s super special because it’s my final match for Country Day, and we definitely wanted to win it.”

Country Day’s title snapped the five-year winning streak of rival Cranbrook-Kingswood, a team the Yellowjackets defeated the week before at the Regional tournament.

“I can’t remember the last time we won state,” said Country Day coach Jessica Young. “It’s been too long. Cranbrook has won five in a row, and it’s awesome to beat them.”

Country Day is actually the last team to have won the Division 3 title other than Cranbrook-Kingswood, as the Yellowjackets claimed it in 2010.  

“We couldn’t have done this without a total team effort,” Young said. “We were upset at a couple of spots, so we needed some big efforts at some of our other flights. Our number two doubles team (Tara Rahmani and Chloe Ward) came up big and reached the quarterfinals. We also got a big lift from Sasha (Hartje) at one singles. It was like a 50/50 match between her and Allison Motea, and Sasha really came up big.”

After dropping the first set 5-7, Hartje, the second seed, came back to win the next two sets (6-1, 6-1) to earn her second win of the season against Cranbrook Kingswood’s top player.

“This just feels unbelievable,” Hartje said. “I’ve been trying my whole high school career to win this title. I was runner-up last year and the year before that I made it to the semifinals. To help my team win the state title is the best part.”

Hartje and Motea are no strangers as they have played each other numerous times over the years.

“We both play competitive tennis outside of high school and have played each other several times a year,” Hartje said. “We also play each other three times a year during the high school season.”

Saturday’s was the deciding match this season as Motea won the first of the year before Hartje won at the Regional meet and then Saturday.

Country Day also claimed individual titles at No. 2 and No. 3 singles.

At No. 2 singles, freshman Monique Karoub defeated Cranbrook-Kingswood’s Emily Harvey 6-2, 6-2.

“It feels really great,” said Karoub, who came in as the number one seed. “I was really nervous, but my teammates really helped me. I have some really great teammates, and they came together for me and helped me out.”

At No. 3 singles, Country Day junior Sadina Fadel captured her second consecutive title. Fadel defeated Grand Rapids Christian’s Emma Greydanus 6-0, 6-0 to claim the crown.

“It was a lot easier this year,” Fadel said. “Last year I would get nervous, but this year I learned how to control my nerves. I just wanted to win this year as a team. It is a lot better when we can win as a team.”

At No. 4 singles, Grand Rapids Christian sophomore Maria Poortenga claimed the MHSAA title. Poortenga, who reached the semifinals last year as a freshman, faced a number of hurdles on her way to winning this season. Earlier, Poortenga broke a finger that resulted in her missing a few weeks, and just before the MHSAA tournament she was battling a foot injury. Poortenga actually wore a boot on her foot the week before the tournament and was unable to practice, although her doctor gave her the green light to compete in the tournament.

Poortenga made the most of her opportunity as she defeated Allyson Zwiep of Holland Christian 6-0, 6-2.

“This was real, real nice,” Poortenga said. “I was not expected to do this well. My foot was in a boot all week and I was not able to practice. I’ve had a rough season, but we have seven seniors on the team and it’s been real fun.”

Poortenga was seeded third at No. 4 singles but defeated second-seed Jenna Lee of Country Day 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals before defeating Zwiep, the fourth seed, in the final.

“I just became a lot better player since last year,” Poortenga said. “I had a lot of matches that gave me some good experience, and that really helped.”

A pair of Poortenga’s teammates also claimed a title. At No. 3 doubles, Grand Rapids Christian’s Kate Zwiers and Natalie DeBoer needed three sets to hold off Sauma Du and Alexandra Bowers of Cranbrook-Kingswood, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Cranbrook-Kingswood claimed a pair of doubles titles. In the longest match of the finals, the Cranes’ No. 4 doubles team of Ava Harb and Frances Dube outlasted Detroit Country Day’s Maya Nassif and Sharmila Prabhu 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5.

At No. 2 doubles, Amelia Smith and Kate Cao of Cranbrook-Kingswood defeated Caroline Heule and Olivia DeVos of Grand Rapids Christian 6-2, 6-4.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day hoists its championship trophy Saturday at Holland. (Middle) Detroit Country Day’s Elle Hartje returns a shot at No. 1 doubles with teammate Haley Mullins backing her up. (Below) Grand Rapids Christian’s Maria Poortenga won the No. 4 singles title after coming back from a recent foot injury. (Click to see more from

Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.”