LP Tennis Finals: Championship Returns

June 2, 2012

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 21, 2022

The Negaunee girls tennis team’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals championship won Sept. 28 was its seventh over the last 10 seasons, to go with runner-up finishes the three seasons the Miners didn’t win it all during that time. 

So when coach Kyle Saari says this year’s team stands out among them, that’s actually saying quite a lot.

And what all of it says about his program is pretty defining as well. 

Negaunee is the fifth-biggest tennis school in the Upper Peninsula, but with an enrollment count of 414 has about 700 fewer students than Marquette and even about 235 fewer than the second-biggest tennis school, Escanaba.

And yet, the program may be on its way to getting even stronger coming off this season’s championship, won with 19 points and flight championships at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 2 and 3 doubles and earning Negaunee tennis the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” honor for September. 

“We’ve been fortunate, really beyond the (last) decade, to just get solid groups of athletes out that want to compete. I think what happened, on the girls side anyway, is when we won our first Division 1 title in 2012, the next group that comes in wants to leave their mark and wants to do a little more,” Saari said. “When you have a solid group of leaders throughout the course of the last decade, it’s contagious with the freshmen and even trickles down to the middle school too.”

That might sound like an understatement given the success of the middle school tennis program last year, it’s first. More than 100 students attended, and the middle school has only about 450-500. The tennis program was for only sixth, seventh and eighth graders – so it’s fair to put an estimate at roughly 25 percent of the community’s middle schoolers had a racket in their hands.

They have plenty of standouts to look up to, as both Finals singles champions were freshmen and both doubles pairs finished the fall undefeated. Together, those six players are among 10 total starters who should be back next season. Negaunee will graduate only No. 1 singles Jordan Enright and No. 1 doubles Stella Harris.

Harris and sophomore Madison Frustaglio finished runner-up at the Final, and with No. 2 champs Olivia Lunseth and Sage Juntti and No. 3 winners Kallen Schultz and Madalynn Peters gave the Miners a comfortable predicament in August as Saari believed all six were capable of playing the No. 1 flight. As they powered to titles, Paytin Brunette and Autumn Ring finished out the strong doubles lineup with a runner-up Finals finish at No. 4. 

On the singles side, the freshmen pair of Rheana Nelson at No. 3 and Lilliana Saunders at No. 4 anchored like veterans, joining No. 2 singles runner-up Aubrey Johnson and Enright at the top as all eight flights scored at least one point at the championship tournament. 

Negaunee finished 13-0-1 in dual matches this fall, that lone tie coming midway through the season against more experienced Iron Mountain. The Mountaineers were on the cusp of victory when Nelson stepped in to seize the tie-saving point. 

She and Saunders, because of their inexperience, carried some uncertainty entering this season. They also ended up major reasons why this championship team will continue to stick out among the many the program has celebrated.  

“We felt pretty good about two freshmen stepping into our singles lineup. We knew they were athletic, and we knew they were high-character kids,” Saari said. “But at the same time, under pressure at the end of the year, you don’t know how they’re going to react. 

“Those are two (singles) titles, as time has really went on, it’s put into perspective how special those two flights were for us.”