By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
HOLLY – If anyone watching the Lower Peninsula Division 4 No. 1 singles championship match Saturday wondered why Jackson Lumen Christi junior Taylor Smith was jumping up and down so much in between points, she had a method to that madness.
The second seed going into the tournament, Smith had lost her previous two matches this season to top seed Natalie Moyer of Kalamazoo Hackett, and Smith learned one valuable lesson before their third meeting.
“I had to constantly keep moving my feet,” Smith said. “I couldn’t stand still. I had to keep going the entire time and keep jumping up and down. I couldn’t get to her ball (in the first matches). She smacks the ball really hard, and in order to get the ball back I had to keep moving.”
Smith kept moving alright, all the way to when she accepted the medal handed out to the MHSAA Finals champion after she avenged those two earlier losses to Moyer with a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Smith’s title at No. 1 singles ended up propelling Lumen Christi to its best ever finish at an MHSAA Girls Tennis Final, as the Titans took second with 27 points.
But leaving Holly High School with the championship trophy for the first time since 2009 was Ann Arbor Greenhills, which finished first with 32 points to cap off a year full of motivation after Greenhills disappointingly took fifth at last year’s Final.
“I’ve always felt the best thing to do is be Zen about these things,” Greenhills coach Mark Randolph said. “If you want to hit the target, you want to try and not aim at the target. Our goal was to be in the hunt on Day 2, and if we were in the hunt on Day 2, it’s all about bliss. Let’s go out there and let it rip, and they did.”
Reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart scored 21 points to finish in third place.
Greenhills showcased its depth in winning the title with champions in four flights and a runner-up finish in another.
Vidhya Rajaprabhakaran at No. 3 singles, Phoebe Sotiroff at No. 4 singles, the team of Baani Jain and Giselle Farjo at No. 2 doubles and the team of Jamie Todd and Ryan Perry at No. 3 doubles were the champions for Greenhills.
Julia Freeman advanced to the final at No. 2 singles before losing to Maggie Ketels of Kalamazoo Hackett, 6-1, 6-4.
“Every single one of these kids made a huge contribution under pressure,” Randolph said. “We have five super seniors who have been dreaming about this since they were ninth graders and we were getting our hats handed to us.”
Lumen Christi coach Teri McEldowney had mixed emotions after everything was decided.
On one hand, she felt winning it all was an obtainable feat for her squad, but she said a couple of hard losses Friday and a couple more Saturday were too much to overcome.
On the other hand, though, it’s never a bad thing to finish higher than any other team in school history.
“My girls played the best that they ever played,” McEldowney said. “They brought it here, and that’s what matters to me.”
In addition to Smith’s title, Lumen Christi’s No. 1 doubles team of Geraldine Berkemeier and Jocee McEldowney prevailed in a thrilling three-set match over Sara Gerard and Anna Keating of Sacred Heart, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Grand Rapids West Catholic duo of Elise Bolthouse and Izzi Nguyen won No. 4 doubles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Julia Friedman returns a volley during a No. 2 singles match Saturday. (Middle) Jackson Lumen Christi’s Taylor Smith powers through a swing on the way to winning No. 1 singles. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)