Forest Hills Northern Returns with Dominating Performance

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for

June 5, 2021

MIDLAND – The cancellation of last season due to COVID-19 didn’t affect Abby Siminski in the same way it affected her classmates in the Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern girls tennis program, because she hadn’t planned on playing high school tennis in 2020.

But that hardly means it was lost on her and her current Huskies teammates that they were back playing for a championship Saturday at Midland Tennis Center.

And dominating.

Forest Hills Northern had a participant in every championship match and ran away with the team title, scoring 39 points by winning seven of eight flights. Bloomfield Hills Marian finished second with 25 points, one more than Birmingham Groves.

“It was sad for all of them (2020 seniors) because everything got cut short,’’ said Siminski. “Especially for the captains. I felt really bad for them. It’s a huge deal for us to be out here today and have someone in every flight. We’re just happy to be playing.’’

Before last year’s cancellation, Northern had won outright team titles in 2019, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005, 2003 and 2002, and tied for first in 2014.

Bloomfield Hills Marian tennis“It was tough not being able to play last season,” said longtime Huskies coach Dave Sukup. “We had three seniors on last year’s team that couldn’t finish their careers. We have four seniors on this year’s team. This is an experienced, talented group. This is one of the most talented groups we’ve had. It’s never over until the finals, but we got everyone through.’’

Alexis Pena, the team’s No. 3 singles standout, said current team members still keep in touch with the seniors from last year.

“It was really hard last year because we got through the hard part,’’ said Pena. “We got through tryouts, waking up at 5 in the morning. Then we got a couple practices in. It was really hard on the team because we didn’t know if we were going to keep going or not. We tried our best to go out and play whenever we could and keep conditioning.

“I think this year we did a really good job of coming back as a team and playing well. The seniors last year come out and watch us play, so we’re playing for the seniors last year and the seniors this year.’’

The Huskies lapped the field this weekend. Northern went into the semifinals with a two-point lead over Groves and a three-point lead over Marian.

Northern’s first champ was crowned at No. 3 doubles, as Tanishka Shenoy and Maya Echtinaw won when their opponents retired due to injury.

The Ws kept flowing.

 Isabella Paul won No. 2 singles over Deshanaa Betala of Portage Central, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Forest Hills Northern tennis“I played her during the season, so I knew it was going to be tough,’’ said Paul, who won the No. 3 singles flight in 2019.

“It was tough not playing last season, but it may have been a blessing in disguise for me because I broke my foot. Winning this year was equally as exciting as it was in 2019.’’

Pena won No. 3 singles with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Anna Dinsmore of Portage Central. Siminski defeated Groves’ Sullivan Patel 6-0, 6-2, to claim the championship at No. 1 singles; Siminski had finished runner-up at No. 1 in 2019.

Marian’s Lily Low ended Northern’s flight title run with a 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory over the Huskies’ Nathalie Lanne. But Northern’s No. 4 doubles team of Marion Haviland and Megan Broughal downed Marian’s Marcella Zarouk and Meghan Sharkey 6-0, 7-6 (7-4) to claim that flight.

Northern’s seventh flight championship came from Sophie Richards and Rhea Marwaha at No. 1 doubles. They defeated Makenna Crandell and Taylor Humphrey of Byron Center, 6-3, 6-2, in that final.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Hills Northern’s Abby Siminski returns a shot during Friday’s No. 1 singles play in Division 2. (Middle) Marian’s Gaby Gryzenia returns a volley during a No. 1 singles match. (Below) The Huskies’ Sophie Richards (left) and Rhea Marwaha await a serve at No. 1 doubles. (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.”