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.) 

Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

October 21, 2022

The Negaunee girls tennis team’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals championship won Sept. 28 was its seventh over the last 10 seasons, to go with runner-up finishes the three seasons the Miners didn’t win it all during that time. 

So when coach Kyle Saari says this year’s team stands out among them, that’s actually saying quite a lot.

And what all of it says about his program is pretty defining as well. 

Negaunee is the fifth-biggest tennis school in the Upper Peninsula, but with an enrollment count of 414 has about 700 fewer students than Marquette and even about 235 fewer than the second-biggest tennis school, Escanaba.

And yet, the program may be on its way to getting even stronger coming off this season’s championship, won with 19 points and flight championships at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 2 and 3 doubles and earning Negaunee tennis the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” honor for September. 

“We’ve been fortunate, really beyond the (last) decade, to just get solid groups of athletes out that want to compete. I think what happened, on the girls side anyway, is when we won our first Division 1 title in 2012, the next group that comes in wants to leave their mark and wants to do a little more,” Saari said. “When you have a solid group of leaders throughout the course of the last decade, it’s contagious with the freshmen and even trickles down to the middle school too.”

That might sound like an understatement given the success of the middle school tennis program last year, it’s first. More than 100 students attended, and the middle school has only about 450-500. The tennis program was for only sixth, seventh and eighth graders – so it’s fair to put an estimate at roughly 25 percent of the community’s middle schoolers had a racket in their hands.

They have plenty of standouts to look up to, as both Finals singles champions were freshmen and both doubles pairs finished the fall undefeated. Together, those six players are among 10 total starters who should be back next season. Negaunee will graduate only No. 1 singles Jordan Enright and No. 1 doubles Stella Harris.

Harris and sophomore Madison Frustaglio finished runner-up at the Final, and with No. 2 champs Olivia Lunseth and Sage Juntti and No. 3 winners Kallen Schultz and Madalynn Peters gave the Miners a comfortable predicament in August as Saari believed all six were capable of playing the No. 1 flight. As they powered to titles, Paytin Brunette and Autumn Ring finished out the strong doubles lineup with a runner-up Finals finish at No. 4. 

On the singles side, the freshmen pair of Rheana Nelson at No. 3 and Lilliana Saunders at No. 4 anchored like veterans, joining No. 2 singles runner-up Aubrey Johnson and Enright at the top as all eight flights scored at least one point at the championship tournament. 

Negaunee finished 13-0-1 in dual matches this fall, that lone tie coming midway through the season against more experienced Iron Mountain. The Mountaineers were on the cusp of victory when Nelson stepped in to seize the tie-saving point. 

She and Saunders, because of their inexperience, carried some uncertainty entering this season. They also ended up major reasons why this championship team will continue to stick out among the many the program has celebrated.  

“We felt pretty good about two freshmen stepping into our singles lineup. We knew they were athletic, and we knew they were high-character kids,” Saari said. “But at the same time, under pressure at the end of the year, you don’t know how they’re going to react. 

“Those are two (singles) titles, as time has really went on, it’s put into perspective how special those two flights were for us.”