Gazelles Cap Return Season with Familiar Celebration

By Pam Shebest
Special for

June 4, 2021

PORTAGE — Sisters Marisa and Kayla Nafso were ecstatic after pulling out a tough three-setter for the No. 4 doubles title Friday at Portage Central High School.

The last match off the courts, they had no clue that their team, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, won the team title at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 tennis championship.

They were stunned to learn that their semifinal win actually had been team title clincher.

“Oh, we won?” Marisa, a junior, said, grabbing her sister in a big hug.

“Wait, wait, wait. Our semifinal win? Oh my gosh, we won. That’s great!

“Wow. I really wanted to win individually, but the team makes it 20 times better,” Kayla, a freshman, exclaimed with a huge grin.

Sacred Heart finished with 29 points, six ahead of Traverse City St. Francis.

Just two points separated the next four teams.

North Muskegon and Portland tied for third with 18 points each, Grand Rapids West Catholic was fifth with 17 and Jackson Lumen Christi sixth with 16.

Marisa Nafso won a state title at No. 2 doubles in 2019, and her sister was thrilled to be her partner this year.

“I was really lucky because she won states when she was a freshman,” Kayla Nafso said.

“Because of her experience, I was more comfortable. It was great that I got to win as a freshman.”

The sisters said the final was the match that scared them the most.

The top seeds at their flight, they defeated Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian’s Delanie Minnema and Caroline Rudolph, the third seeds, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-1.

“We were watching them play at the other site,” Nafso said. “Creds to the team we played for playing two three-set matches back to back.”

The team win was the Gazelles’ third Finals title in a row, but the first under coach Chris Shaya.

Clarkston Everest Collegiate tennisNeither the coach nor the players knew for sure they clinched the title until all matches were finished.

“I figured we won but I was going to wait for the team so we all could find out together,” Shaya said.

“None of us looked. I knew Traverse City was very strong in singles, and I knew we were strong in doubles. In singles, they competed extremely well. It was tough for us to overcome, and they deserve those wins.”

As a coach, Shaya said, “First of all, you want their experience to be fun. You want to teach them some life lessons about hard work and how that pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t pay off.”

At No. 1 singles, top-seeded Moorea McNalley finished the season undefeated after entering the tournament with a 28-0 record.

She lost just seven games over her four tournament matches.

The Clarkston Everest Collegiate junior defeated the second seed, Lilly Bobrowski of St. Francis, 6-0, 6-0.

McNalley also won the No. 1 singles title two years ago. (The 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19).

As the top seed, she said she felt a bit of pressure coming into the tournament, “especially the further matches. They are all very good players.”

Bobrowski, a senior who plans to play tennis at Ave Maria University in Florida, said the two played earlier in the regular season.

“We went into a third set tiebreak then,” she said. “(Friday, McNalley) was definitely on her game and I made a few unforced errors, but it was a lot of fun.”

Senior Alexi Lewis, one of two St. Francis singles winners, defeated Sacred Heart’s Isabelle Burg, the second seed, 6-2, 6-3, for the No. 2 flight championship.

“My goal was to win but I got kind of nervous looking at the draw because I had never played the No. 2 seed,” the top seed said.

“All the other seeds I had played and had good scores against them, so I was really confident going in. I was preparing myself for playing the No. 2 seed — a lot.”

Lewis, who plans to play tennis at Hope College, said the afternoon wind was a factor in the match.

“That threw me off a little bit,” she said. “So much of it was just mental toughness. (Burg) was a really, really good player and could get the ball back with a lot of pace.

“It was just working against that and trying to find that little spot where I could move her around. The wind complicated all that.”

Lewis was also undefeated entering the tournament.

The other St. Francis singles champ was Jillian Sodini, the top seed at No. 3, who defeated Portland’s Adriana Krieger, 6-2, 6-1.

“I knew I had to keep my eye on the prize and stay calm with it and play my game,” said Sodini, who ended her senior season undefeated.

Traverse City St. Francis tennis“(Second place as a team) is awesome. We have six underclassmen this year and six seniors. You’ve just got to bring it at states. We’ve been pretty rowdy all day.”

“Rowdy” is the perfect word for one of the loudest and most supportive teams at the tournament.

First-year coach Dane Fosgard thought for sure this would be the year St. Francis won the team title after finishing runner-up three of the last five seasons.

“Just when you have a team you think is good enough to win States, it’s not good enough,” he said.

“We have good players coming up. This year’s going to be tough to beat.”

He gave a nod to his three senior singles players, all co-captains, for being leaders on the team.

“Six seniors and three of them went out as finalists and two state champs,” he said. “Those three seniors, Lilly, Alexi and Jillian, have worked so hard all four years of their high school careers, both on the court and off the court.

“Having those three on the same team is something special. They’re all No. 1 singles-caliber players.”

Seeded third at No. 4 singles, Olivia Eaker of Jackson Lumen Christi was the lowest seed to win a title.

She upset top-seeded Erika Graham, of Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard, 6-0, 6-4, in the final after defeating St. Francis’ No. 2 seed, Mary Chittle, 5-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 in the semifinal.

Graham also won her semi in three sets, 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4, over fourth seed Eve Jackson of Sacred Heart.

Both Eaker and Graham were exhausted after their match, the next to last off the courts.

Just a freshman, “I don’t even know,” Eaker said, catching her breath, about winning the final. “I’m honored and very grateful for this.

“I feel amazing, excited. It was definitely tough. We both worked really hard for it. We gave it all we had.”

Other doubles winners included second seeds Reagan Nauta and Shannon Russell, from Grand Rapids West Catholic, 7-5, 6-2, over top seeds Lulu George and Maggie Pulte of Sacred Heart.

Top seeds Noor Simon and Angelina Kakos, also of Sacred Heart, defeated third seeds Hannah Nelson and Brooke Tietz from West Catholic, 7-6(5), 6-4, at No. 3 doubles.

At No. 4, second seeds Marilyn Gaston and Greta Goszkowicz, from North Muskegon, defeated West Catholic top seeds Olivia Vallone and Karlie Kurlenda, 6-3, 6-5.

Goszkowicz, a senior, was one of the most exuberant winners, commenting, “My goal was to make it to the second day.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Sacred Heart’s Marisa Nafso returns a volley during her and sister Kayla’s championship match win at No. 1 doubles Friday. (Middle) Clarkston Everest Collegiate's Moorea McNalley follows through on a return during her No. 1 singles championship match. (Below) Lilly Bobrowski scored big for Traverse City St. Francis also advancing to the No. 1 singles final. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1