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.)

Reigning UPD1 Champ Negaunee Setting Pace Again as Finals Approach

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)