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

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