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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.)
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.”
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.
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.)