Flight Finals Wins Help Iron Mountain Complete Team Title Climb

By Travis Nelson
Special for Second Half

September 30, 2021

ISHPEMING – Iron Mountain capped off its season as Upper Peninsula Finals champions Thursday afternoon, claiming the Division 2 title at Westwood High School.

The Mountaineers won flight titles at No. 2 singles and No. 2 and 3 doubles, earning 17 points. Last season’s champion, West Iron County, finished runner-up with 14 points. Ironwood and Ishpeming tied for third with seven, followed by Munising with five, Gwinn four and Norway.

“First and foremost, I’m just extremely proud of these girls,” Iron Mountain coach Marcus Celello said. Last year we got second place and we were one match away from winning it, so we knew what it took to be close. But first day of practice, we said that was the ceiling, that was our potential, that nothing was going to be given to us. My main takeaway is just that I’m really proud of this group of girls.”

Iron Mountain had finished runner-up six times since winning its last Finals championship while playing in Division 1 in 2010. 

This Division 2 title was going to come down to a couple of matches between Iron Mountain and West Iron County. The Mountaineers and Wykons faced off in three flight finals, and Iron Mountain won all of them. 

“We knew it could very well come down to a situation like this, us and West Iron in a couple of finals, and whoever pulls away in those will come out on top,” Celello said. “Low and behold, that’s essentially what happened today. We were prepared for the possibility and we just didn’t let it affect us mentally, and we just played our game and took care of business.”

For the Mountaineers, Aziza Burgoon had to come back against West Iron County’s Aurora Dahl after losing the first set to win No. 2 singles 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 in a long match. She was joined by her waiting teammates on the court for a celebration afterward.

“The first set I was pretty nervous,” Burgoon said. “Normally, I’m not a very nervous person, but I guess emotions got to me and I dropped the first set. Then I went over and talked to my coach and they said, ‘Leave it all out there and just have fun,’ and that’s when I really started playing well. Just having fun, and I won the second set, and the third set I was nervous coming back a little bit.”

Danika Juul and Rediet Husing won No. 2 doubles for Iron Mountain, downing West Iron County’s Lillie Schmutzler and Callista Bortolameolli 6-2, 6-3. 

West Iron County tennis“It feels really, really good,” Juul said. “When we play them, it’s always a really good match, and it feels good that we were able to pull through at the end there.”

The tandem’s motto for the season was “smarter not harder” on their shots, and it led to three points on the year’s biggest stage.

“Point by point too, that was key for us,” Husing said.

Anike Cameron and Kensie St. John captured No. 3 doubles for Iron Mountain with a 6-3, 6-3 win over West Iron County’s Autumn Smith and Seanna Stine.

Elsewhere, West Iron County’s Kali Applin had to bounce back after dropping the first set to win No. 1 singles 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 over Gwinn’s Lily Kerry. After taking home the No. 2 singles title last year, it was an emotional end to Applin’s career.

“It was a long match, but I feel good,” Applin said. “Just knowing that I had another chance to get it back, there’s always a second set, and if I win that, there’s always a third set that I can win. It feels good to win for the school.”

The Wykons also took No. 3 singles, with Brynlee Nodurft defeating Munising’s Jenna Matson in straight sets 6-4, 6-2.

“It was really my mental game,” Nodurft said. “I was down 4-1 in the first set and that was really hard for me, and I’m just glad I came back. It was really difficult and I’ve never played her, so it was really hard because I didn’t know how she played. So I guess I was just learning her game and how to mix with that.”

Ironwood and Ishpeming won the remaining flights, with Ironwood getting victories at No. 1 and No. 4 doubles, and the Hematites claiming No. 4 singles. Leilah Anderson and Ella Darrow defeated Iron Mountain’s Bella Brown and Anja Kleiman 6-1, 6-2 at No.1. The Red Devils’ pair of Sarah Lauzon and Yoyo Sin downed another Iron Mountain team of Hailey Greenleaf and Mia Vedin 2-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 to clinch a share of third place. 

Ishpeming was able to get No. 4 singles with a 6-1, 6-2 win by Emily DeMarois over Iron Mountain’s Elle Loftholm. DeMarois started the year playing doubles, and it took a tough adjustment to play singles and get the Hematites a flight title.

“It actually took a lot because I didn’t play singles until about halfway through the season,” DeMarois said. “So to come out here, especially in this heat, it’s crazy. It took a lot of mental power and just not beating myself the whole time.”

Iron Mountain didn’t have to face the adversity it experienced at times during the regular season, but the days that didn’t go right prior to Thursday helped make the championship moment.

“It took lots of ups and downs,” Celello said. “There were days where we lost 0-8, 1-7 sometimes against some high-quality opponents. You just can’t let that affect you mentally. What I’ve been preaching to the girls is that tennis is already 60 percent mental, 40 percent physical. If we let it get to more of a mental game than it already is, we’re not going to be successful. Our message before we all went out to start today was that we just had to take it point by point.”

PHOTOS (Top) Iron Mountain's Aziza Burgoon takes in the moment during her No. 2 singles win. (Middle) West Iron County's Kali Applin follows through on a shot during the No. 1 singles final. (Photos by Travis Nelson.)

Adams' Fu Hoping to Write Championship Headline After Repeat Finalist Finishes

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)