Despite Rival's Return, Forest Hills Northern Completes Repeat Run

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 4, 2022

HOLLAND – Last year was a breeze for the Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern girls tennis team as it won the Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship by 14 points.

This year, with rival Birmingham Seaholm back from playing in Division 1, the Huskies knew they were in for another battle – which is why all of them took out a black Sharpie and wrote one word of motivation on their left forearm.

“We write FIGHT on our arms for a reason, because we never give up,” explained FHN senior Rhea Marwaha, who teamed with fellow senior Sophie Richards to knock off both of the top seeds to win the No. 1 doubles title.

“We knew this was our last hurrah, so we just decided to keep fighting and keep smiling.”

There were certainly plenty of smiling Huskies on Saturday at Hope College, after they outlasted Seaholm for their 11th Finals championship over the past 20 years.

Forest Hills Northern won with 34 points, with Seaholm right behind with 30 points – a full 12 ahead of the rest of the field, giving the end of the two-day tournament the feel of a dual match.

FHN and Seaholm squared off in all four of the doubles finals, with the Huskies winning first and second doubles and the Maples taking third and fourth. Ironically, neither school won a singles flight, but Northern was runner-up in all four, while Seaholm had no singles players reach the finals.

Mattawan placed third with 18 points as seniors Lizzie Novak and Romika Shokohi won the top two singles flights. Portage Central and Birmingham Groves tied for fourth with 17 points.

Seaholm, which was tied at the top with FHN after the first day with 24 points, needed to sweep the four doubles finals to have a chance. But Forest Hills Northern had other ideas.

Mattawan tennisMarwaha and Richards, seeded third at No. 1 doubles but the reigning champions at that flight, rode the momentum after downing second-seeded Portage Central in the semifinals to win an intense three-set match over top-seeded Madeleine Leo and Nina Graham of Seaholm in the final, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

“We lost to Seaholm earlier this year, but we knew exactly what we did wrong and we fixed it up,” explained Richards. “We wanted to win today for the team, and we really wanted to beat Seaholm.”

FHN also won No. 2 doubles with the duo of senior Isabella Paul and sophomore Ryan Morey.

While Marwaha and Richards were the “giant killers” for the Huskies in doubles, it was junior Miriam Ogilvie who played that role in singles.

Ogilvie, a junior who was seeded fifth at No. 4, made it all the way to the finals – stunning the top seed in three sets in the semifinals before losing in another three-setter in the final to second-seeded freshman Paula Martinez of Battle Creek Lakeview in the last match of the day.

“I had some really tough battles, and I proved to myself that I could stay intense the whole time,” said Ogilvie. “It feels great to know that I came through for my team.”

Ogilvie was one of four singles runners-up for FHN, and it was those extra points which proved to be the difference against Seaholm. Also placing second for the Huskies were seniors Abby Siminski (No. 1 singles), sophomore Nathalie Lanne (No. 2) and junior Anna Dinsmore (No. 3).

Forest Hills Northern tennisThe Huskies reached the finals in all eight of the flights, an incredible showing of depth, which put a smile on the face of veteran coach David Sukup.

“It doesn’t get old, because the kids keep me young,” said Sukup, who has led the Huskies to three second-place Finals finishes over the past 20 years, to go along with the 11 titles. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be doing this, but at this point, I’m on a one-year contract every year.”

Seaholm, which now has four Finals titles and four second-places over the past 10 years, pulled out a couple of big upsets in doubles over FHN to keep its title hopes alive.

Jane Wineman and Tatum Hirsch upset top-seeded FHN at No. 3 doubles, while the duo of Sydney Fong and Jenna Ting went three sets to do the same at No. 4 doubles – but, ultimately, the lack of presence in the singles finals proved costly for the Maples.

The top two singles flights belonged to the Mattawan, as Novak dispatched Siminski (6-1, 6-3) and Shokohi defeated Lanne (6-1, 6-0). Novak will play college tennis next year at the University of Richmond (Virg.), joining her older sister Kate (Bucknell) in the college ranks.

“Oh, we aren’t competitive at all,” Novak said with a laugh, when asked about playing against her sister. “We have good matches, but I think I can beat her.”

Portage Central junior Anna Dinsmore, the third seed at No. 3 singles, upset second-seeded Courtney Marcum of Seaholm in the semifinals, then knocked off top-seeded Andrea Wang of FHN in the final.

At No. 4 singles, Battle Creek Lakeview freshman Paula Martinez became a Finals flight champion by downing Ogilvie in the day’s final match, 7-6, 0-6, 6-2.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern doubles teammates show their "FIGHT" during a match Saturday. (Middle) Mattawan's Lizzie Novak returns a volley during her No. 1 singles title match. (Below) FHN serves during another doubles match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.) 

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.)