By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart had its first outdoor practice this season near the end of March. When co-coaches Judy Hehs and Jean Koehler showed up to the courts, their players already were in the midst of their usual warm-up routine.
Sacred Heart brought back 10 players from last season’s Division 4 runner-up that finished only three points behind Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian. And when those players got to Holland and the surrounding courts used because of Friday’s rain storms, they again knew what needed to be done.
The Gazelles, relying on four top-seeded doubles teams, finished with 29 points Saturday to claim their first MHSAA championship, by seven points over runner-up Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
Sacred Heart pairs won individual championships at Nos. 1, 3 and 4, and the No. 2 pair finished runner-up. That No. 1 team of Kelsey Nagle and Emily Nash also played the top flight in 2011, and the No. 3 pair of Heidi Lemon and Sarah Spangler played together last season at No. 4.
“It’s really helpful when you can bring sophomores to a state tournament, and they’re hungry and eager to learn, and you come close,” Hehs said. “Then you bring them back as juniors, and they get it.”
The No. 4 doubles team of Kendall Lehmann and Teresa Walawender also won their flight for the Gazelles, while the team's singles players either scored to their seeds or surpassed them. Kelsey Hildebrand was seeded sixth at No. 2 singles but advanced to the semifinals, as did No. 3 player Tyler Papazian, who was seeded fifth.
No. 2 doubles Hannah Gerrard and Elia Wilson fell just shy of matching their top seed, but still finished runners-up at their flight.
“We left there (last season) in shock; how could we have been so close and not done it?” Hehs said. “But we had a group of kids, and they were totally committed to this. This was their goal.”
The most intriguing singles championship match came at No. 1. Ann Arbor Greenhills senior Kasey Gardiner won her third MHSAA individual championship – she also claimed titles in 2009 and 2010 – by downing Kalamazoo Hackett’s Meika Ashby. Ashby won the No. 1 singles title last season.
Division 1 at Midland Tennis Center
The seeds didn’t stack up for Grosse Pointe South to make a run at the favorites this season. But the Blue Devils played above those numbers to claim their 13th championship in the 31-year history of the Girls Tennis Finals, edging runners-up Clarkston and Port Huron Northern by a point each.
Only four top seeds won their flights – including Grosse Pointe South’s No. 2 doubles Amelia Boccaccio and Carrie Lynch, who claimed a three-set win over Port Huron Northern that was among difference-makers. The Blue Devils also got a championship at No. 4 singles by Maggie Sweeney, who entered as a fourth seed.
No. 1 singles was claimed by a fifth seed – Davina Nguyen of Utica against Clarkston’s Katie Brozovich, who won No. 3 singles in 2011. Brozovich's teammate Lexi Baylis defended her championship at No. 2 with a straight-set win.
Division 2 at Kalamazoo College
Birmingham Seaholm won only one individual flight. But the Maples claimed enough points to edge Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern by two – 27-25 – at the top of the final standings.
The championship was Seaholm's third, but first since 2004. It finished runner-up last season and also in 2005 and 2006. Forest Hills Northern had won or shared the last six Division 2 championships.
FHN made its push by winning two doubles flights and advancing to the championship match of the other two. But Seaholm also reached the finals in four flights, including Nos. 2-4 singles – and won the deciding match in the No. 3 doubles final when top-seeded Jackie Meier and Rachel Wilson defeated FHN's Stephanie Nguyen and Lindsey Schichtel in straight sets.
The tournament was not without surprises. The Huskies got doubles points from pairs that finished far better than they were seeded – Shelby Moored and Lauren Gager were a fourth seed and won at No. 2, and Schichtel and Nguyen were the sixth seed at No. 3.
No. 1 and No. 4 singles both were won by fifth seeds – Mason’s Abby Perkins in the top flight and Grand Rapids Northview’s Claire Stam in the fourth.
Division 3 at Holly/Fenton
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood earned its 14th championship, and did so after the first day of play before finishing the effort Saturday with 34 points – nine more than runner-up East Grand Rapids.
No. 1 singles standout Alexandria Najarian defended her championship with a two-set win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Sydney Liggins. Cranbrook-Kingswood also swept doubles with wins from Megan Simmons and Meg Phyle at No. 1, Claire Huttenlocher and Maria Landi at No. 2, Briana Letica and Holly Meers at No. 3 and Lauren Lanzon and Christina Roualet at No. 4.
All of those winning flights were seeded one or two entering the tournament.
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.)