Country Day Near-Perfect in Repeat Run

June 3, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

KALAMAZOO – There were cheers and congrats after the final match at Saturday’s Division 3 Finals at Kalamazoo College.

On the other side of the net, Detroit Country Day’s tennis players mostly were speechless as senior Sasha Hartje pulled aside a teammate to tell her it was OK.

The Yellowjackets had fallen in the final match of the day. But they’d won the first 39 of the weekend. So for the veteran Hartje, surrounded by mostly younger teammates, it was an understandable but still weird scene – one point shy of perfect was still perfect enough for the repeat champions.

“Nobody’s going to remember this one match we lost. They’re going to remember that we won 39 out of a possible 40 points, and that’s unbelievable,” Hartje said.

“We’ve never done this well, collectively, as a team. And we’ve never been as bonded as we are as a team this year, so it was unbelievable my senior year to be this close with all my teammates and to win this – and I got to win with my sister, which was super exciting for me.”

Country Day cleared the field by 16 points after last season winning the Lower Peninsula Division 3 title by only one.

It’s fair to say this was expected. All eight Yellowjackets flights entered Friday’s first round as top seeds. Sophomore Monique Karoub, senior Sadina Fadel and freshmen Nina Khaghany and Alexis Nardicchio swept Nos. 1-4 singles, respectively, without losing a set.

On the doubles side, Hartje and her sophomore sister Elle gave up only two games on the way to their win. Junior Heather Zimmerman and sophomore Tara Rahmani at No. 2 and juniors Jenna Lee and Maya Nassif at No. 4 also made it through their brackets without giving up a set.

That left the No. 3 doubles final as the last match of the tournament. The crowd gathered anticipating that another Country Day win would give the team the first perfect score in MHSAA Tennis Finals history.

But after winning the first set on a tie-breaker and then dropping the second 6-2, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood seniors Francis Dube and Ava Harb put the finishing touches on a second straight flight championship by claiming the third set 6-2. Dube and Harb had won the No. 4 doubles title in 2016.

Still, Country Day’s 39 team points tied Cranbrook Kingswood’s 2013 team for the most at a Girls Tennis Final in at least a decade.

“Obviously we want everyone to win just because they feel better when they win. But we’re proud of everyone, and 3 doubles, they played a really tough match and fought all the way through,” Country Day coach Jessica Stencel said. “It’s hard being the only team that doesn’t come out on top, but they still got second. I think that’s pretty great too. And 39 out of 40, I think that’s a pretty solid year.”

It had an interesting start. Hartje, last season’s champion at No. 1 singles and the runner-up in 2015, suffered multiple ankle sprains playing an early game for the soccer team and had to miss six weeks for recovery.

By the time she returned, she said, it didn’t make sense to challenge for her former spot atop the singles lineup – so instead she joined her sister at No. 1 doubles and helped Elle earn a second straight championship at that flight.

“We’re really lucky that Monique (Karoub, who won No. 2 singles in 2016) is equally as talented. She finished barely losing any games in this entire tournament,” Stencel said. “Sasha is so talented and really helped us out at No. 1 doubles, and the whole way from top to bottom they did really well this year.”

So did Grand Rapids Christian, the runner-up for the second straight season – but this time in a self-admitted surprise. The Eagles graduated seven from the team that just missed winning a year ago, and had only two senior starters and three freshmen in the doubles lineup.

Senior McKenzie Moorhead (No. 2 singles), juniors Maria Poortenga (No. 3) and Emily Schellenboom (No. 4), and freshman Maya Barbee and junior Anna Cole (No. 4 doubles) all finished flight runners-up.

“You just try to go with a good core. We had a great set of leaders at the top, Leah (Newhof) and McKenzie as number one and two singles players, and when you have that luxury of great players at the top, you really look to make sure your depth is good,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Tim Morey said. “That’s where we kinda made our money. … We really looked to build with some youth. We have three freshmen and a few juniors, and we have a really nice mix that allowed us to have the depth we needed to be successful when we got to the state finals.”

Adding to the historic nature of this tournament was Imlay City senior Grace Whitney. She advanced to the championship match at No. 1 singles before falling to Karoub 6-0, 6-1, to end a mighty rise among the state’s elite.

As a freshman, Whitney was the first player from her school – girls or boys – to qualify for the MHSAA Tennis Finals. Last spring as a junior, she advanced to the No. 1 singles semifinals as the fifth seed. She entered this weekend seeded second.

“I’m from a small town and there’s not a lot of people who go do great big things, so it really means a lot,” said Whitney, who will play next season at Wright State University in Ohio. “And all the people in my town all support me.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day No. 2 singles player Sadina Fadel connectsduring Saturday's finals rounds at Kalamazoo College. (Middle) McKenzie Moorhead returns a volley on the way to finishing runner-up at No. 2 singles for Grand Rapids Christian. (Click to see more from

Adams' Fu Hoping to Write Championship Headline After Repeat Finalist Finishes

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

May 23, 2024

ROCHESTER HILLS — An editor for her school newspaper the last two years, Nicole Fu is one who loves to tell good stories and write good headlines. 

Greater DetroitA junior at Adams, Fu enjoys getting to know people around the school and giving them a moment in the sun, so to speak.

“I love being able to talk with so many people and learn the stories behind their accomplishments,” Fu said.

It’s ironic, because come the end of next Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Girls Tennis Finals, Fu hopes professional media outlets around the state will talk about her own story of accomplishment, possibly with headlines such as “Redemption Feels Sweet for Fu” or “Third Time is Charm for Adams Tennis Star.”

Both the last two years, Fu has advanced to the championship match at No. 1 singles in Division 1. 

But while quite an accomplishment to do so as a freshman and sophomore, she also left somewhat unsatisfied, losing in 2022 to Reese Miller of Ann Arbor Pioneer (6-1, 6-1) and last spring to Sari Woo of Ann Arbor Skyline (6-3, 6-4). 

“Being in the final both my freshman and sophomore years has shown me that I have what it takes to win a state championship even when it gets tough,” Fu said. “Last year especially has shown me that I’m not far from the title, and staying strong both mentally and physically is going to be crucial to hopefully winning a state title.”

No doubt, Fu should be one of the top contenders, if not the favorite.

She enters with an 18-0 record and has brilliantly handled opponents attempting to give her their best performances.

“Her ability to handle the pressure has improved a lot,” Adams head coach Greg Burks said. “She has matured as a top-level player and competes as well as any player I’ve ever had.”

Fu, left, congratulates Ann Arbor Skyline's Sari Woo after their match.Fu actually said she got her start in tennis a little later than most. After dabbling in soccer and swimming, Fu started playing tennis at age 10 when one of her mom’s co-workers gave her a foam ball and a kids racquet. 

“Then I started hitting against our living room wall, and one day my mom asked if I wanted to take an actual tennis lesson,” Fu said. 

From there, Fu started playing in tournaments, and the tennis bug bit her.

“I really loved competing in matches, so I didn’t stop and it ended up being very rewarding,” she said.

Fu also has an accomplished hitting partner in twin sister Katie, who lost in the championship match at No. 2 singles last year. 

“She’s always a great hitting partner, and it’s really nice to have someone who understands the sport and what it takes to balance that out with everything else,” Nicole Fu said. “She’s basically my second brain too, so having her around during the season is super fun and helpful for keeping me in check.”

Fu has a collegiate future in the sport, having committed in November to play tennis at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

“Obviously the education is extraordinary, and attending a service academy builds your character both physically and mentally and sets you up to make an impact on the nation,” Fu said. 

When it comes to next week’s MHSAA Tournament, Fu obviously is aiming to make another impact at the championship level – but this time finish the quest she fell short of the last two years. 

“This year as a back-to-back finalist and a strong favorite has put a lot of pressure on me to win my matches,” she said. “So there’s definitely a lot of expectations for this season, and managing that was a little bit tough in the beginning of the season. But over time I’ve kind of learned to embrace it, and it’s given me more confidence in my matches knowing I’m the player people are aiming to beat.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Rochester Adams' Nicole Fu returns a volley during last season's No. 1 singles championship match at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Fu, left, congratulates Ann Arbor Skyline's Sari Woo after their match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)