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.)
ESCANABA — The Negaunee Miners have been the measuring stick in Upper Peninsula girls tennis for nearly a decade.
Negaunee, 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 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.)