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.
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 HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ISHPEMING — There was both a single reason and a singles reason why Iron Mountain won the championship at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Tennis Finals played at Westwood High School on Thursday.
The difference is subtle — just a single letter “s” — but rings true both ways.
It was easy to see what the Mountaineers’ secret was — sweep the titles at every singles flight while adding one more in doubles just to be on the safe side.
IM finished with 19 points, while Ishpeming outdueled West Iron County in several late finals to eke out second place by one point, 14 to 13.
Gwinn posted five points to take fourth, while Munising had four, Norway one and Ironwood did not score.
Mountaineers coach Marcus Celello credited senior leadership for the team’s repeat championship.
“We have eight seniors on our team, including all four of our regular singles players and both our No. 1 doubles players, along with one each on Nos. 3 and 4 doubles,” the IM coach said.
He noted that all those singles flights were winners with the team’s championship in doubles also coming with the pair of seniors at No. 1.
“We won this last year and returned our core, so I knew we would at least be very competitive this year,” Celello said. “We won or tied every dual meet this season.”
He said that included a 4-4 tie against eventual U.P. Division 1 champion Negaunee to give the Miners the only blemish on their dual-meet record this fall.
“But sometimes when you haven’t faced adversity, it can be scary,” the coach continued. “You don’t always know how you’re going to react.”
No. 2 singles player Aziza Burgoon — of course, a senior — completed an undefeated season by winning a marathon final over WIC’s Seanna Stine, 7-5, 7-5.
IM also got singles titles from No. 3 Natalia Brown and No. 4 Rediet Husing, along with a doubles championship from No. 1 Elle Lofholm and Anja Kleiman.
But the biggest cheers and shrieks came after IM finished its singles sweep when No. 1 Callie Bianco pulled off a 6-4, 6-4 win over Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel.
Schiefel led 4-2 in the second set looking to force a deciding third before Bianco won the final four games.
“I just was trying to stay focused, work the ball and follow through,” Bianco said. “And maybe the most important thing was to be patient, not panic.
“I’m known for being an impatient player. When I’m on, I like to be aggressive, but I know that when I’m not on, I have to focus on being patient.”
Asked if she was “on” Thursday, she was emphatic with her “Yes I was!”
One coach trying to be patient but excited for next season is Ishpeming’s Kaitlin Rich, who watched her junior-laden team set the groundwork for a big season next fall.
“We’ve already made a big improvement from last year,” she said. “I’m proud of how hard our girls have worked to make that improvement.
“Half of our players are dual-sport athletes, which means they’re playing another sport this fall, too, so they really have to balance their workload.”
The Hematites carted off one championship, one of the last finishing finals matches at No. 3 doubles when Kaitlyn VanDeuren and Paige Palomaki had to win a third-set tiebreaker to defeat WIC’s Bailey Hoffart and Aubrey Richardson 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1).
That result decided the runner-up position team-wise as a Wykons’ win would’ve reversed their point totals and places in the standings.
“We had five finalists, at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 1, 2 and 3 doubles,” Rich said. “We return nine of our juniors next year, so I’m really looking forward to next year. I think we should be ready to make a run at the U.P.’s (title) next year.
“Kaitlyn and Paige, those two by far are the most improved players from last year,” the Ishpeming coach added.
WIC veteran coach Joe Serbentas was philosophical after his players won a pair of doubles titles, at No. 2 with sisters Autumn Smith and Kaitlyn Smith and at No. 4 with Destiny Lemery and Olivia Lamay.
“We’ve played well at the U.P.’s the last five or six years, but we also seemed to come up that point short,” he said. “Iron Mountain is so senior-loaded, you just knew that they were the big favorites today.
“We had a 5-7-1 record in dual meets, but we play a lot of the best teams in the U.P., so I still think that’s pretty good.”
Gwinn made a run at a U.P. flight championship for the first time in a number of years with Schiefel at No. 1 singles, much to her coach’s delight.
“She has such a passion for the sport, and she’s such an avid athlete,” Modeltowners coach Darcia Mattson said. “She runs track and is a phenomenal basketball player. She trains at AdvantEdge (athletic training facility in Marquette).
“She used to play tennis against her brother, Jared Rolland.
“And she’s not a big girl at all, but her heart is twice as big as she is.”
PHOTOS (Top) The Iron Mountain and Ishpeming No. 2 doubles pairs face off during a semifinal. (Middle) Anja Kleiman gets a racket on the ball during her and partner Elle Lofholm’s match at No. 1 doubles. (Below) Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel returns a volley at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Steve Brownlee.)