Forest Hills Northern Finds Winning Mix

June 1, 2019

By Greg Chrapek
Special for Second Half

HOLLAND – One of the biggest challenges a high school coach can face is blending a talented group of freshmen with a successful group of returning players.

Veteran Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern tennis coach Dave Sukup faced that challenge this year.

With a core of tennis players returning from a team that placed fourth at the MHSAA Finals last year, Sukup welcomed a skillful group of freshmen making their high school debut this season. The blending process proved to be a success for Sukup and Northern as the Huskies came together to win the Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship Saturday.

Northern totaled 31 points to claim its first Finals title since sharing the 2014 championship with Birmingham Seaholm. This title was Northern’s first outright since 2011. Seaholm placed second with 29 points, followed by Bloomfield Hills Marian with 26.

“We had some outstanding freshmen come into our school this year, and they really made a difference,” Sukup said. “We had all eight of our flights reach at least the semifinals, and that is something we’ve never done before. That made the difference.”

Northern finished with a pair of individual flight champions. Freshman Isabela Paul won the No. 3 singles title by outlasting Romika Shokoni of Mattawan 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

“It feels pretty amazing,” Paul said. “I just had to keep pushing through. Winning a individual state title and the team state title is real special. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Sophomore Alexis Pena claimed Northern’s other singles title. Pena defeated Greta Albertie of Birmingham Seaholm 6-1, 6-1.

A returning player, Pena put the team first and herself second this year. Pena played No. 1 singles in 2018, but with all the talented freshmen singles players coming into the program, she moved down to No. 4 singles for the good of the team. The move certainly was worth it.

“Last year we finished in fourth place,” Pena said. “It feels really special to go from fourth place last year to first place this year.”

Pena credits the leadership of Northern’s three seniors, who also served as team captains, as being a major key to the team’s success this season.

“Definitely having Meg Millar, Hannah Petersen and Oliva Dicks as captains,” Pena said. “They just made it so fun. Since we have a lot of freshmen on the team; they did such a good job of including everyone. We have a special team this year.”

Forest Hills Northern was not the only team with impressive freshmen in the lineup. Mattawan, which finished fifth as a team, was led by freshman Elizabeth Novak at No. 2 single. The top seed, Novak held form as she claimed a 6-1, 6-0 victory against Alba Delapena in the championship match.

“It’s really exciting,” Novak said. “We have a real close team, and having my teammates here with me made this so special.”

One of Novak’s teammates is her older sister Kate, who reached the quarterfinals at No. 1 singles and cheered her younger sister on in the title match.

“This was the first year we’ve been able to be on the same team,” Novak said. “Being on the same team with my sister is very special.”

While the freshmen were making impressive debuts, East Grand Rapids senior Sloane Teske accomplished an impressive feat as she finished her high school career with three straight No. 1 singles championships. Teske turned back Forest Hills Northern freshman Abigail Siminski 6-3, 6-3 in the final.

“This means everything,” said Teske. “I’m just happy that all my team and my family and fans were able to be here and support me. It meant the world.”

Teske, who will continue her career at the University of Toledo, remained focused and dialed in the entire match and throughout the tournament.

“My attitude and my mind was my main focus,” Teske said. “It pulled me through all my matches. I just went out there and played my game and hoped for the best. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Birmingham Seaholm relied on outstanding play from its doubles teams to secure second place. Seniors Madison Daminato and Emily Hirsch claimed the title at No. 1 as they came from behind to defeat Mia Schwartz and Marlo Hudson of Marian 5-7, 6-1, 6-0.

For Hirsch, it was her second Finals title as she was part of the champion No. 1 doubles team last season.

“This was so special,” Hirsch said. “I won it last year, and this year I won it with a different partner. We had a tough first set, but we picked up our game in the next set.”

For Daminato, the title was special in that she played singles all the way up until this spring, when a back injury forced her to switch to doubles.

“I looked at it as a new challenge,” Daminato said. “I learned a lot this year, and it was fun being able to partner with Emily. The season turned out good.”

Seniors Brooke Forte and Lilly Trinch teamed up to win their second straight title at No. 2 doubles, over Abigail Zhang and Lilia Henkel of Forest Hills Northern 7-6 (5), 6-3.

“This was very special,” Forte said. “We’ve played together for three years, and this was our last time playing together.”

The Seaholm duo stayed together and battled through the tight first set to set the stage for the win.

“We are all such good friends,” Trinch said. “We get together in the winter to play, and that really helps us.”

At No. 3 doubles, Seaholm’s Charlie Kuchman and Sofia Manzo defeated Marian’s Ragad Almsaddi and Gigi Kalabat 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. At No. 4 doubles, the Seaholm team of Ashley Buechner and Remi Maynard held off Marian’s Sara Kuredijian and Elizabeth Meathe 6-2, 6-4. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern celebrates its latest MHSAA Finals championship. (Middle) East Grand Rapids’ Sloane Teske sends back a volley. (Click for more from

Senior-Dominated Iron Mountain Soars to UPD2 Finals Repeat

By Steve Brownlee
Special for

September 30, 2022

ISHPEMING — There was both a single reason and a singles reason why Iron Mountain won the championship at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Tennis Finals played at Westwood High School on Thursday.

The difference is subtle — just a single letter “s” — but rings true both ways.

It was easy to see what the Mountaineers’ secret was — sweep the titles at every singles flight while adding one more in doubles just to be on the safe side.

IM finished with 19 points, while Ishpeming outdueled West Iron County in several late finals to eke out second place by one point, 14 to 13.

Gwinn posted five points to take fourth, while Munising had four, Norway one and Ironwood did not score.

Mountaineers coach Marcus Celello credited senior leadership for the team’s repeat championship.

“We have eight seniors on our team, including all four of our regular singles players and both our No. 1 doubles players, along with one each on Nos. 3 and 4 doubles,” the IM coach said.

He noted that all those singles flights were winners with the team’s championship in doubles also coming with the pair of seniors at No. 1.

“We won this last year and returned our core, so I knew we would at least be very competitive this year,” Celello said. “We won or tied every dual meet this season.”

He said that included a 4-4 tie against eventual U.P. Division 1 champion Negaunee to give the Miners the only blemish on their dual-meet record this fall.

“But sometimes when you haven’t faced adversity, it can be scary,” the coach continued. “You don’t always know how you’re going to react.”

The Iron Mountain and Ishpeming No. 2 doubles pairs face off during a semifinal. No. 2 singles player Aziza Burgoon — of course, a senior — completed an undefeated season by winning a marathon final over WIC’s Seanna Stine,  7-5, 7-5.

IM also got singles titles from No. 3 Natalia Brown and No. 4 Rediet Husing, along with a doubles championship from No. 1 Elle Lofholm and Anja Kleiman.

But the biggest cheers and shrieks came after IM finished its singles sweep when No. 1 Callie Bianco pulled off a 6-4, 6-4 win over Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel.

Schiefel led 4-2 in the second set looking to force a deciding third before Bianco won the final four games.

“I just was trying to stay focused, work the ball and follow through,” Bianco said. “And maybe the most important thing was to be patient, not panic.

“I’m known for being an impatient player. When I’m on, I like to be aggressive, but I know that when I’m not on, I have to focus on being patient.”

Asked if she was “on” Thursday, she was emphatic with her “Yes I was!”

One coach trying to be patient but excited for next season is Ishpeming’s Kaitlin Rich, who watched her junior-laden team set the groundwork for a big season next fall.

“We’ve already made a big improvement from last year,” she said. “I’m proud of how hard our girls have worked to make that improvement.

“Half of our players are dual-sport athletes, which means they’re playing another sport this fall, too, so they really have to balance their workload.”

The Hematites carted off one championship, one of the last finishing finals matches at No. 3 doubles when Kaitlyn VanDeuren and Paige Palomaki had to win a third-set tiebreaker to defeat WIC’s Bailey Hoffart and Aubrey Richardson 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1).

That result decided the runner-up position team-wise as a Wykons’ win would’ve reversed their point totals and places in the standings.

“We had five finalists, at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 1, 2 and 3 doubles,” Rich said. “We return nine of our juniors next year, so I’m really looking forward to next year. I think we should be ready to make a run at the U.P.’s (title) next year.

“Kaitlyn and Paige, those two by far are the most improved players from last year,” the Ishpeming coach added.

Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel returns a volley at No. 1 singles. WIC veteran coach Joe Serbentas was philosophical after his players won a pair of doubles titles, at No. 2 with sisters Autumn Smith and Kaitlyn Smith and at No. 4 with Destiny Lemery and Olivia Lamay.

“We’ve played well at the U.P.’s the last five or six years, but we also seemed to come up that point short,” he said. “Iron Mountain is so senior-loaded, you just knew that they were the big favorites today.

“We had a 5-7-1 record in dual meets, but we play a lot of the best teams in the U.P., so I still think that’s pretty good.”

Gwinn made a run at a U.P. flight championship for the first time in a number of years with Schiefel at No. 1 singles, much to her coach’s delight.

“She has such a passion for the sport, and she’s such an avid athlete,” Modeltowners coach Darcia Mattson said. “She runs track and is a phenomenal basketball player. She trains at AdvantEdge (athletic training facility in Marquette).

“She used to play tennis against her brother, Jared Rolland.

“And she’s not a big girl at all, but her heart is twice as big as she is.”

PHOTOS (Top) The Iron Mountain and Ishpeming No. 2 doubles pairs face off during a semifinal. (Middle) Anja Kleiman gets a racket on the ball during her and partner Elle Lofholm’s match at No. 1 doubles. (Below) Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel returns a volley at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Steve Brownlee.)