MIDLAND – Runner-up to Detroit Country Day in 2021, 2019 and 2018, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood finally broke through with a cast of veterans and youngsters Saturday to capture the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 girls tennis championship at the Midland Tennis Center.
Cranbrook swept singles and scored 37 points, while Chelsea held off East Grand Rapids by one point, 21-20, to finish second.
Cranbrook previously had captured the team title from 2011 to 2015 before Country Day took over and won the following five championships in LPD3.
The Cranes' lineup featured one senior, two juniors, and nine freshmen and sophomores.
Freshman sensation Yenna Park, the top seed at No. 1 singles, didn’t disappoint as she defeated Otsego sophomore Aly Aldrich, 6-0, 6-2, in that flight’s championship match.
“This was very exciting,’’ Park said. “I knew a lot of people expected me to win and there’s some pressure with that, but I just wanted to go out and play my game. When warming up, I try to look at my opponent and see what their weak areas are. If it’s the back-hand, I’ll hit to the back hand. I was comfortable.
“When I play USTA I play to get better. Here it’s about winning the championship. We lost by one point to Country Day last year, so it was good to finally break through.’’
Aldrich entered the championship match coming off a semifinal with Bloomfield Hills Marian’s second-seeded Gaby Gryzenia that lasted nearly three hours. Aldrich previously had reached the No. 1 semifinals as a freshman and entered this weekend as the sixth seed.
Cranbrook senior Charlotte Brown, last season’s No. 2 singles champion, retained her crown and was the tournament’s first champ of the day with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Chelsea sophomore Anne-Marie Begola. Brown was the top seed in the bracket, while Begola was unseeded but defeated the third, sixth and second-seeded players to reach the finale.
“I just decided to keep my head in the game and disregard anything about the lineup,’’ said Brown. “I just play my game. We’ve seen so much success this season. We had a lot of freshmen that came in this year and helped our team. Our No. 1 singles (Park) is a freshman, and she just beat everybody.
“I’m thankful for the way we played. Going back-to-back (at No. 2) is definitely a great feeling, but I’m more excited about the fact we were able to win the team title.’’
Top-seeded sophomore Sienna Ilitch gave Cranbrook another flight championship at No. 3 singles with a 6-3, 6-2 win over freshman Josie Arbanas of Stevensville Lakeshore, who also entered the tournament unseeded but defeated the second and third seeds to advance.
“I had a three-set match in the semis, which I did last year,’’ said Ilitch. “I got to the finals and said this is my second chance where I can get redemption. I locked in. I hit my targets. I played confident. I played wanting to win, knowing my team was relying on me. Even though our team was doing well overall, for me personally I wanted to be a state champion in my flight. Last year I lost in the final. Even though we were up, it mattered to me.’’
Top-seeded sophomore Olivia Zhang made sure Cranbrook swept singles, defeating Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s third-seeded Addison Bellows 3-6, 6-1, 6-0 at No. 4 singles.
“I got off to a slow start,’’ said Zhang. “I was afraid to play her.’’
Top-seeded freshman Ava Clogg and sophomore Grace Zhang claimed No. 3 doubles for Cranbrook with a 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 win over Chelsea senior Kendall Spink and junior Izzy Barkey, who entered as the sixth seeds. At No. 4 doubles, Cranbrook’s top-seeded Daryn Krause and Kayli Lala defeated East Grand Rapids’ second-seeded Kelly Couvrier and Kate Simon 6-1, 6-2 for the flight championship.
Upstart Chelsea’s runner-up team finish was its highest at a Girls Tennis Finals.
“One of the advantages we have is we have a middle school program, and we have a little kids’ program,’’ Chelsea coach Rahn Rosentreter said. “We really don’t have a lot of clubs. Most of our work is done during the summer. We’ve been lucky. We have a lot of parental support, and the school supports us. We have a community that puts a lot behind their boys and girls tennis.’’
After EGR, Bloomfield Hills Marian was fourth and Country Day fifth in the team standings.
Country Day’s second-seeded Peja Liles and Lana Haddad claimed No. 1 doubles with a 7-6, 6-2 victory over top seed Chloe Qin and Gaby Levine of Cranbrook.
At No. 2 doubles East Grand Rapids’ top-seeded Meg Simon and Ella Webb held off Country Day’s third-seeded Aryasai Radhakrishnan and Marin Norlander 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in the final.
PHOTOS (Top) Cranbrook Kingswood's Yenna Park prepares to return a volley during her No. 1 singles championship match Saturday. (Middle) Otsego's Aly Aldrich sends a shot back to Park during that title decider. (Below) Chelsea's Kendall Spink and Izzy Barkey and Cranbrook's Ava Clogg and Grace Zhang greet each other at the net during their No. 3 doubles match at Midland Tennis Center. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.
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.”