Country Day Rises with Super Saturday

June 1, 2019

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

NOVI – For a squad that had won the previous three championships and was ranked No. 1 in the state, there was still understandably a lot of nervousness within the Detroit Country Day girls tennis team going into the final day of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals.

Country Day entered the day trailing rival Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingwood by a point, and that actually was a deficit that provided a bit of relief among the Yellowjackets.

“Before Cranbrook’s No. 4 doubles team lost, we were down four points to them and they weren’t supposed to lose that quarterfinal match,” said assistant coach Jane Ziecik, the acting head coach for the second day of competition. “Being down four points to Cranbrook is way different than down one.”

But while there were feelings of nervousness for Country Day, it didn’t translate into its play on the last day.

Country Day showed its championship mettle, rising up by winning six of the eight flights and claiming its fourth straight Finals title with 33 points, good enough to outlast runner-up Cranbrook’s total of 26.

“It was definitely more nerve-wracking than what our girls are used to,” Ziecik said. “They are used to not having to worry as hard.”

Leading the way was senior Monique Karoub, who ended her high school career by winning her fourth individual Finals title to complement being part of four team champions.

Karoub beat Nina Govila of Cranbrook in the No. 1 singles final 6-0, 6-1.

“I definitely was confident, but every year I get super nervous,” Karoub said. “It’s never a guarantee at all. It’s just the best feeling to be able to come out on top like this. Especially as a team, too. That’s the best.”

This was a season of transition once again for Karoub, who won last season at No. 2 singles when Country Day had a highly-touted then-freshman, Julia Fleigner, win at No. 1.

Fleigner decided not to play high school this year, and Karoub returned to No. 1 singles, a flight she won as a sophomore in 2017.

Karoub also won the title at No. 2 singles as a freshman.

“It was a difficult transition,” Karoub said. “But I was able to be successful with it. We had a quad in Allegan, and it was our first quad of the season. I had a really close three-set match, and it just emphasized how difficult No. 1 can be and how good the girls are.”

Karoub is moving on to attend college at Michigan State. She said she is undecided on whether she will play tennis.

“I just tried to be consistent because I was really nervous,” Karoub said. “I just tried to focus on footwork and try and control the things I could control.”

Other flight champions for Country Day were Elle Hartje at No. 2 singles, Alexis Nardicchio at No. 3 singles, the team of Tara Rahmani and Nina Khaghany at No. 1 doubles, the tandem of Ruhe Wayak and Lana Haddad at No. 2 doubles and the team of Maria Sicilia and Rachel Jeong at No. 3 doubles.

Cranbrook, which won five team Division 3 championships in a row from 2011-15, finished runner-up for the second straight year.

Charlotte Brown won the title at No. 4 singles for Cranbrook.

“Country Day is a really strong team, and we’ve been chasing them all year,” Cranbrook head coach Grant Asher said. “We feel like we have been getting closer and closer, and I think that was evident after day one. But they’re a really strong and deep team. I was really proud of our girls in a sense that they put themselves in a position to put some pressure on them. Unfortunately, Country Day elevated their game at the end.”

The only flight that didn’t have a champion from Country Day or Cranbrook was No. 4 doubles, where Grand Rapids Christian’s team of Grace Maurer and Calista Bremer, seeded sixth, won the title.

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PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day celebrates its fourth straight LP Division 3 title Saturday. (Middle) Country Day's Maria Sicilia returns a volley during a match at No. 3 doubles. (Click for more from

Reigning UPD1 Champ Negaunee Setting Pace Again as Finals Approach

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 21, 2023

ESCANABA — The Negaunee Miners have been the measuring stick in Upper Peninsula girls tennis for nearly a decade.

Upper PeninsulaNegaunee, which came into this season as reigning Division 1 champion, has taken the U.P. crown seven of the past nine years. Ishpeming Westwood took the title in 2021.

Negaunee is 11-0-1 after a win over Gwinn on Tuesday. The tie came last week against Escanaba.

"We knew we were going to have a target on our backs," said Miners coach Kyle Saari. "We told the girls they have to be ready for every meet. The target is pretty huge, and I think we were sluggish out of the gate. I don't think we finished particularly well at the net. I think our tradition helps us for sure, although it can be a double-edged sword. We want to keep striving to reach benchmarks and make sure we don't get lackadaisical."

Sophomore Liliana Saunders is 12-0 at No. 2 singles. She was the UPD1 No. 4 single champion as a freshman.

"I'm starting to play my game," Saunders said after her 6-0, 6-1 victory over Escanaba’s Molly VanDamme. "I think I'm controlling the ball pretty well, but I need to work on my net play and improve my serving a little.

“Overall, we have a real strong team. We're pretty close-knit and play a lot over the summer. I think our tradition gives us a lot of confidence going into matches."

Saunders' summer work included a trip in early August to Escanaba, where she earned the age 16-18 title in the 76th Annual Michigan-Wisconsin Open with a 7-5, 6-0 victory over Escanaba senior Sophia Derkos.

"I think that really helped me," she said. "She's really a good player. My toughest match this season was against the Westwood girl (sophomore Samantha Ruby). The Gladstone girl (Addy Trombley) is also pretty good."

Derkos – last season’s UPD1 No. 1 singles champion – remained undefeated in five matches after taking a 6-0, 6-1 decision from Negaunee junior Aubrey Johnson at No. 1 singles last week.

"She's a good player, and they're a good team," Derkos said after the match. "This is a big win. I've been waiting to play them and Westwood. Those are the two toughest teams. This is a big confidence boost."

Johnson, last season’s UPD1 runner-up at No. 2 singles, bounced back with a 6-1, 6-1 triumph over Munising's Bailey Corcoran on Thursday and also won Tuesday, and gave Derkos her due after the Escanaba match.

"Sophia knows what she wants to do," said Johnson. "She plays at a pretty fast pace, and I didn't get to the net as much as I'd like. She's very patient. You can tell she's an experienced player. I can learn from playing against her."

The Miners, as they did in singles, split their four matches with Escanaba in doubles.

Seniors Sage Juntti and Olivia Lumseth are the reigning UPD1 champs at No. 2 doubles, and Kallen Schultz was part of the No. 3 champion last season and is playing No. 1 this fall with Madison Frustaglio, who was part of the 2022 runner-up at their flight.

“We have a very good coach. He always challenges us, so we can get better,” Juntti said. “We do our usual stuff. If it's not good, he just makes us work on it until it is good."

Except for the Escanaba tie and a 5-3 triumph over Westwood, all of the Miners' victories have been shutouts (8-0).

"The biggest part of our success is the girls are supportive of each other," Saari said. "They're all quality kids."

Negaunee's success also has made Escanaba coach Chris Ogren take notice.

"Kyle has been there a long time," he said. "They have one of the most athletic teams, and they're very disciplined. You always have to be ready when you play them.

“We have some good teams up here. You always have to be mentally prepared."

Negaunee hosts Gwinn, Menominee and Marquette before also hosting the Mid-Peninsula Conference tournament Sept. 27.

The U.P. Division 1 Finals will take place Oct. 4 in Marquette.

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO Negaunee’s Aubrey Johnson serves during her match against Escanaba’s Sophia Derkos on Sept. 13. (Photo by Mitch Vosburg/Escanaba Daily Press.)