KALAMAZOO — Lisa Johnston was stunned when her Birmingham Seaholm teammates mobbed her on the court following her No. 3 singles win at Kalamazoo College’s Markin Racquet Center.
Johnston’s 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win against Okemos sophomore Monika Francsics was the clincher that gave Seaholm the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship with 29 points, one better than Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.
Last year, the two teams shared the title.
Bloomfield Hills Marian finished third with 23 points and Okemos fourth with 21.
“When everyone came rushing in, I was so surprised and so happy,” Johnston said. “I’m glad I didn’t lose. It helped not knowing (hers was the clincher).”
At No. 1 singles, Okemos senior Emily Struble finished her high school career with four MHSAA Finals titles, including a 6-3, 6-3, win against Northern senior Claire Aleck.
In the final match on court, Northern senior Madeline Bisset avenged her only loss in two seasons with a 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (1) win against Portage Central senior Carly Pratt at No. 2 singles.
Northern senior Sydney Whitfield, the top seed at No. 4 singles, defeated second-seeded Kylie Wilkenson, a junior from Okemos, 6-4, 6-3.
Seaholm coach Scot Ransome and the players knew Johnston represented the title-clinching point.
“I certainly didn’t emphasize that to her,” Ransome. “Enough pressure playing in the finals of the state championship without also know it’s the tipping point for the team.
“The focal point this year was, interestingly enough, I challenged the girls just last week. We have a number of plaques on the wall that say State Champions and Finalists, but none say repeated State Champ.
“Playing into the second day and the pressures of it, the girls stayed focused. We played probably the top six teams in D-1 (during the season) and that certainly helped prepare us for the success we enjoy today.”
Northern coach David Sukup said losing is tough, especially with seniors playing all four singles and two doubles flights.
“We had our chances,” he said. “It’s our own fault. We had flights where we could have won one more match and we didn’t.
“It’s all part of the game. Second’s better than third, but not as good as first.”
Johnston won the title at No. 4 doubles last year and moved up to No. 3 singles because, “I just worked really hard. I was determined,” she said.
Francsics was gracious in defeat.
“She was really consistent, she really was,” Francsics said. “She never let down. She tried really hard the entire time, not to say I didn’t try. She was really focused the entire time and never gave me a chance to really dominate the match.”
Struble, the top seed, won titles at No. 2 singles her freshman and sophomore seasons and at No. 1 her final two years.
That experience “definitely helped because it was really loud in there and it was really easy to get distracted, but I kept my composure because I’ve been in those positions before for four years,” she said.
“I know both of my (semis and finals) opponents really well and I knew they were both going to be really hard matches. I played (Aleck) last year in the finals and it went to three sets. This year, earlier in the season I beat her in three sets, so I really knew it would be a hard match.”
Aleck, seeded third, said her slow start made a difference.
“She came out hot right from the start,” she said. “I guess it just didn’t go my way today.
“We definitely had some long points, and I think she just kinda outplayed me on most of them. I think I was on the defense a lot and she was on the offense, so I had to work harder to get balls back. Emily’s a tough opponent.”
Competition between the two isn’t over yet. Both are headed to Mid-American Conference schools; Struble to Miami University of Ohio and Aleck to University of Toledo.
Bisset, the top seed at No. 2, said defeating second-seeded Pratt was extra special, avenging her only loss in two seasons.
After winning the first set at love, “For me, it’s all nerves,” Bisset said. “I came out really confident and ready to go. Then in the second set I got a little tentative, and that doesn’t really help me much. It didn’t go well, but I managed to pull it out.”
Although the two were playing on Court 4, the farthest from the bleachers, the Northern crowd certainly made themselves heard on each winner.
“The energy from the crowd helped me so much,” Bisset said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it without everybody cheering.”
Pratt said she wasn’t ready to give up after the first set.
“I wanted to win,” she said. “I rushed in the first set and didn’t play smart. I said I wanted to do this and I almost did.”
In spite of the loss, Pratt tied a school mark, according to coach Peter Militzer.
“That’s the second time in school history that a female tennis player made the state finals,” he said. “The first time was 10, 11, 12 years ago, the 4 doubles made the state finals but didn’t win.”
Whitfield, the top seed at No. 4, has improved one step in the tournament each season.
A lefty, “For me, it’s an advantage because it spins differently with the serve, so it spins out,” she said.
Wilkenson said playing a lefty didn’t really bother her.
“It wasn’t the lefty that really threw me off; it was the fact that her ball didn’t have much pace and I couldn’t relax throughout a lot of my match because I was nervous,” she said.
Seaholm won two doubles titles. At No. 2, juniors Caity Buechner and Meaghan Flynn, the second seeds, defeated Northern’s top seeds, sophomores Felicia Zhang and Maansi Dalmia, 6-2, 7-5.
At No. 3, top seeds Sam Lareau and Emily McDermott, both juniors, defeated No. 2 senior Marta Colosimo and junior Shannon Flynn, of Marian, 6-3, 6-4.
Marian’s top seeds, senior Bianca Emde and junior McKenna Landis, defeated the second seeds, Seaholm seniors Rachel Fenberg and Laine Boitos, 6-2, 7-5, at No. 1 doubles.
At No. 4 doubles, after upsetting the top seeds in the semifinals, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central’s fifth-seeded senior Taylor Schermers and sophomore Alexis Bonner defeated senior Emily Benderoff and junior Jessica Morganroth, the third seeds from Seaholm, 6-4, 6-2.
PHOTO: Lisa Johnston returns a shot during her championship match at No. 3 singles Saturday which ended up deciding the MHSAA title in favor of Birmingham Seaholm. (Middle) Okemos' Emily Struble follows through on a shot during the No. 1 championship match; she finished as a four-time singles title winner. (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.)