Greenhills Girls Clinch 1st Repeat Team Championship in Semifinals

By Pam Shebest
Special for

June 3, 2023

KALAMAZOO — Ann Arbor Greenhills made school history this weekend and did so with a “secret weapon,” according to coach Mark Randolph.

The Gryphons ran away with the team title at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Girls Tennis Tournament on Saturday at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium.

Greenhills amassed 36 points to outdistance the field and win back-to-back state titles, a first in school history for the girls team.

Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard finished second with 20 points, followed by Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart with 18 and Traverse City St. Francis with 16.

Two Grand Rapids teams, West Catholic and Catholic Central, tied for fifth with 15 points each.

“I was saying to anyone who would listen, I think we were here five years ago and we had one singles qualifier who lost 6-2, 6-2, in the first round,” Randolph said.

“We’ve sort of been off the stage. Because the boys have been strong, people assume it’s just been the same (with the girls). We’ve had to build.”

Division 4 tennisThe building started in the middle school, where the “secret weapon” comes into play.

Five years ago, the coach’s wife, Becky Randolph, joined the English faculty at the school.

“I asked her to take over the middle school team,” the coach said. “While she doesn’t know anything about tennis, she knows an awful lot about young women and program building.

“She put it in these kids’ heads that if they stayed, they would get a great education but also be the start of a dynasty, she called it. So she sold them on the start of a dynasty.”

Things bode well for the future with the Gryphons losing just one senior, Manassa Gollapalli, to graduation.

The second-seeded senior defeated top-seeded senior Audrey Lee, of St. Francis, 6-3, 6-2, in the No. 4 singles final.

Gollapalli’s 6-1, 6-2, semifinal win over sixth seed Laura Williams, from Father Gabriel Richard, was actually the point that clinched the title for her team.

“It’s my last match of my high school season, so I was just trying to enjoy it,” Gollapalli said. But even if she had lost the flight final, “The team won so I can celebrate with my team no matter what happens.”

Finishing second, Father Gabriel Richard also loses just one senior and has an eye on closing the gap with its in-city rival.

The Irish started the season unranked, but climbed to third in the polls heading into the tournament.

Last year, they finished 13th at the Finals.

“Going from 13th to second is an incredible jump,” coach Jim Sayed said. “I have to acknowledge our senior captain Vivian (Heegan) and our junior captains Deena (Farjo) and Laura (Williams) for all their hard work this year for guiding the young players and showing them the way. We’ve done an incredible job all season long thanks to them.”

Division 4 tennis - Father Gabriel RichardThe tournament was the third time the Irish and Greenhills faced off this season.

“Congratulations to Greenhills,” Sayed said. “They’re an incredible team. We gave it our best shot against them. We had a lot of good matches, and the girls fought hard.”

Knowing the two teams will be back on the courts against each other next season, Sayed added: “That Greenhills team is very talented, returning a lot of players and we’ll have to put in a lot of hard work in the offseason to catch them. But I think our girls are up for that challenge.”

Greenhills sophomore Maddie Morgan, who lost in the semifinals at No. 1 singles last year as the third seed, lived up to her top billing at No. 1 singles this year with a 6-4, 6-3, win over freshman Jenny Florea, the second seed from Father Gabriel Richard.

This was the fourth time the two have played this season, with the previous three going three sets each.

“It was crazy,” Morgan said. “I won the first two and she won at Regionals. It’s kind of a rivalry.

“I was kind of thinking this one could (go three sets) too, but all the previous matches, I won the first set then lost the second so this time I knew I had to grind in the second set and try to get it out.”

Florea said playing in her first MHSAA Tournament was a “little nerve-wracking as a freshman, but I tried my best. I did what I needed to. It was a tough loss.

“I was hoping I could end it in two, but it didn’t happen. I made more mistakes and she put more balls in play. She had a tough mindset.”

Sophomore Shangyang Xia, the top seed from Greenhills, defeated Heegan, the second seed from Father Gabriel Richard, 6-3, 6-2, at No. 2 singles.

Although she defeated Heegan twice this season, Xia said she did not take anything for granted.

“Everybody improves, and she’s a really well-rounded athlete,” Xia said. “It was definitely hard to play her, but I just tried to be myself and I came through.”

As for winning the team title in the semifinals, “It was a weight lifting off our shoulders when we heard that,” she said.

Heegan said cheerleading in the fall and playing basketball in the winter helps her tennis.

“It almost seems like having a break between each tennis season helps me, weirdly enough,” she said.

Looking back on her four years of varsity tennis, “You don’t really get a setting of high school tennis anywhere else,” she said. “It’s very friendly between teams and you kind of root for teams you know at big tournaments. It’s cool in that way. It’s a fun sport, a social sport.”

A pair of freshmen faced off at No. 3 singles, with Greenhills top seed Danica Rakic-Dennis defeating Father Gabriel Richard’s second seed Kenna Trost, 6-1, 6-1.

Playing in her first MHSAA Tournament, “It’s really fun,” Rakic-Dennis said. “It’s a new experience playing with a team. It’s a great stadium, and I’m happy to be here.”

Two of the closest finals matches were in doubles.

At No. 1, Academy of the Sacred Heart’s third seeds Jade Horcoff and Kayla Nafso defeated Greenhills top seeds Sophie Chen and Lauren Ye 7-5, 7-6(2). At No. 3, Academy of the Sacred Heart’s top seeds Alana Hindo and Presley Krywko defeated second seeds Meera Pandey and Meera Tewari, from Greenhills, 6-2, 7-6(3).

In the other two doubles finals, Academy of the Sacred Heart’s top seeds Maggie Pulte and Lulu George defeated Wixom St. Catherine’s third seeds, Katie Grewe and Julia Ivezaj, 6-2, 6-1, at No. 2, while Greenhills’ second seeds Arya Prabhakar and Aoife Tang defeated Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s fourth seeds, Mary Irwin and Arabella Sassano, 6-2, 6-4, at No. 4.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS by High School Sports Scene

Reigning UPD1 Champ Negaunee Setting Pace Again as Finals Approach

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 21, 2023

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

Upper PeninsulaNegaunee, 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 VrancicJohn 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.)