Cranes Clinch 4th Straight Tennis Title

By Pam Shebest
Special for

May 31, 2014

KALAMAZOO — On a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon, coach Jeffrey Etterbeek was unexpectedly doused with an ice-water bath by a group of cheering, laughing, enthusiastic girls on the Stowe Stadium tennis courts at Kalamazoo College.

The girls and their coach were celebrating Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood’s fourth consecutive MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 title.

“Four-peat is pretty extraordinary, pretty special,” Etterbeek said. “Not many athletic teams can do that, so they can boast they did that.

“Other teams and other players are good out here, and you’re going to take some bumps along the way. I think winning is contagious. You get ahold of a little bit of it and you want to do some more. It’s fun to win.”

Cranbrook-Kingswood led by six points after Friday’s action which ended with the quarterfinals, and clinched the title during Saturday’s semifinal rounds. The Cranes totaled 35 points, followed by Detroit Country Day with 24, Grand Rapids Christian with 20, Allegan with 18 and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep with 15.

This is the third time Cranbrook-Kingswood has won four straight MHSAA team titles, and only the 13th time a streak that long has been achieved by a Lower Peninsula girls tennis team.

The title was bittersweet for senior Alex Najarian, who owns three individual MHSAA titles, all at No. 1 singles, and did not lose a match in four years heading into Saturday’s final.

Najarian, the top seed, was upset 6-2, 6-1, by sophomore Sara Daavettila, the second seed from Williamston.

Daavettila, who ran down everything Najarian threw at her, was playing her first season of high school tennis after being home-schooled last year.

“I knew Alex was playing, and it would be a good year for some good competition to play her before she goes off to (University of) Michigan,” Daavettila said of choosing high school this year. “I thought it would be fun.

“I’ve known her ever since I was little. I grew up playing with her in USTA events. We’re good friends. I just focused on the ball and not who she was, and it worked out. In the first few games, I was on a roll and playing well and hitting well. I was positive and saying I can beat this.”

Najarian said she felt a lot of pressure going into the final.

“I didn’t play my best, but she’s a very good player and I’ve played her before,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of close matches with her before and beat her twice. I knew coming in it was going to be tough, and it made me more nervous.

“There’s a lot of pressure because you’re the senior and you’ve never lost a match.”

Etterbeek said Najarian has been a key to Cranbrook-Kingswood’s success.

“She just ran into a buzz saw today,” the coach said. “The girl played as good as she possibly could have played. Alex should not hang her head. She’s meant everything to this program. She’s brought incredible leadership.

“That’s the only match she’s lost. That one match doesn’t diminish what she did by any means. We’re very proud of her accomplishments at the school.”

Williamston coach Steve Stanley said on a scale of 0-100, “I have helped (Daavettila’s) tennis game ‘zero.’  She’s had great coaches. She’s not only a great tennis player, but she’s very positive and incredibly enthusiastic for the team.

“She hits with her mom (Breita Daavettila), who was a competitive tennis player, and they have a court at their home. It’s mostly her mom and Tom Walker (coach at Court One in Okemos).”

The No. 2 singles final was one of the first on the court and, two and one-half hours later, the last one off.

Anna Short, the top seed from Cranbrook-Kingswood, defeated Country Day’s Haley Mullins, the second seed, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) for her second consecutive title at No. 2 singles. Both are sophomores.

“It was much more challenging this year,” Short said. “Haley just gets everything back. Plus the weather. It was just so hard. She played great.”

After losing the first set, “I kinda was just excited and hitting way too flat and hard. In the second set, my coach Steve Herdoisa told me to back off the pace and spin high and deep and then come in, and that helped a lot.”

Mullins said Short changed her game after losing the first set.

“She got a little bit more aggressive,” Mullins said. “She changed it up a bit and (hit) more lobs inside. She kept the point in play longer.

“It was a great match and she hit some wonderful shots at the end and I think that’s what made the difference, the last couple shots when it really came down to it.”

Many of the players also compete in USTA tournaments, but there’s a big difference, Short said.

“You have so much support being a team,” she said. “There’s the parents, obviously the players and when you’re on a court next to a teammate and they’re cheering you on when you’re down 3-6 in the first set, it’s pretty nice. In the USTA, you’re alone and you’re the only one cheering yourself on.”

Country Day started Saturday with 18 points, tied with Allegan and just one point ahead of Grand Rapids Christian. Although Cranbrook-Kingswood led by just six points after the first day, the Cranes had players in all eight semifinals flights.

“We screwed up a bit (Friday) with a couple of our doubles teams,” Country Day coach Jessica Young said. “We knew we had to be perfect today and (Cranbrook-Kingswood) had to take some early losses, and you can’t rely on someone taking losses. So we put ourselves in that predicament early on.

“We haven’t finished second in a lot of years, and I’m so proud of them. They fought really hard today. We had our 3 doubles (sophomores Sharmila Prabhu and Lydia Wang) make it to the finals, which wasn’t expected. Our 2 singles (Mullins) fought so hard in the heart-breaker. She’s such a fighter, and I’m so proud of her.”

After pulling out a three-set semifinal win, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0, at No. 3 singles against Cranbrook-Kingswood’s No. 4 seed, sophomore Emily Harvey, top seed Madelyn Karoub defeated unseeded freshman Maddy Winarski of Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 6-1, 6-1.

“I know Maddy very well and I know she’s a great player, so I was expecting a tough match, actually,” said Karoub, a Country Day senior who ended her high school career with her third Finals individual title.

“She lives in my area, so we practice together. I just played a good match. We had some really good points; I just finished them out. Of the three titles, this is the most important to me, so I’m happy to pull it out. It’s my last year playing. I’m not playing college tennis, so it’s my last team thing.”

Winarski, who was wearing a knee brace following the match, said she didn’t expect to make it as far as the finals.

“I expected to do well, but not this well,” she said. “I’ve been playing for a while, so I’ve been training for it. USTA helps a lot for the experience, but I wanted the team experience. I’ve never been part of a team.”

Notre Dame Prep coach Peter Riley was beaming after the match.

“This is the best finish we’ve ever had at a state tournament in school history,” he said. “A fifth place tournament, not bad at all with the range of talent here.

“(Winarski) started the season hurt. She had shin splints. When we did our challenge matches, she was losing. She wasn’t really ready to play until after Easter, and she raised her level up to No. 3 singles and I’m not surprised. She’s a fighter, and the nice thing is she’s a freshman.”

Runner-up last year at No. 4 singles, junior Sarah Carroll of Detroit Country Day captured the gold this year. The second seed defeated Cranbrook-Kingswood’s top-seeded junior Jazz Teste, 6-1, 6-3.

“My brother (Nick) was my coach this year and he made a really big difference,” Carroll said. “I didn’t let the nerves get to me, and I was able to stay calm. It was awesome. I was able to stay strong the whole match.

“We played two times before and I lost both times, so this was good.”

Teste said in spite of losing, she was thrilled with the team’s four-peat.

“I didn’t work as hard as I could,” Teste said. “I fell for some of her traps, her slices. This is the first state (tournament) that I have participated in and won. I’m really excited.”

Cranbrook-Kingswood won three of the four doubles flights with juniors Meg Phyle and Amanda Simmons winning at No. 1, senior Holly Meers and sophomore Amanda Twu at No. 2, and senior Lauren Lanzon and freshman Mackenzie Beckett at No. 3.

The Grand Rapids Christian duo of senior Rachel Harkema and junior Rachel Koopman took the No. 4 doubles title.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cranbrook Kingswood's Anna Short prepares to return a shot during a No. 2 singles match Saturday en route to winning her flight. (Middle) Williamston's Sara Daavettila volleys during her run to the No. 1 singles championship. (Click to see more at

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.)