Marian Caps Run by Rattling Off Winners

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

June 4, 2016

HOLLY – The first four championship matches Saturday at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Girls Tennis Finals ended with a Bloomfield Hills Marian victory – and all within about 5 minutes of one another.

“It was just like, you didn’t know what to do,” said McKenna Landis, who joined teammate Regan Patterson to win the No. 1 doubles title for the Mustangs. “They’re smiling, you’re smiling, you’re crying, everyone’s happy, so let’s just hug. It was just crazy.”

The four flight champions had more than their individual triumphs to celebrate, as they had also put an exclamation point on Marian’s first team MHSAA title since 2013. The Mustangs finished with 32 points, nine ahead of East Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, who tied for second with 23. Birmingham Seaholm was fourth with 22, and Okemos rounded out the top five with 21.

“It’s a great feeling,” Marian coach Lincoln Wirgau said. “These girls, they work so hard, and the season is so short from March to right now. They put in so much time and effort into a sport that’s not covered enough. They’re out here in 90-degree heat right now, playing two out of three sets, two matches, three matches a day; it’s wonderful to see their work pay off.”

Marian had the team title clinched before the finals started, but none of the players knew that. They certainly played as though there was a lot more still at stake, as four of the team’s five finalists walked away victorious.

Landis and Patterson were joined by the No. 2 doubles team of Melanie Roma and Shannon Flynn, the No. 4 doubles team of Christina Serra and Sophie Groves, and No. 4 singles player Sophie Balardo as champions in their flights.

“That’s a great rush,” Wirgau said. “A lot of them are seniors, and a lot of them have been working for this since their freshman year, so it’s great for those girls. For those seniors to go off winning their last match, and to do it next, next, next, next – that was something special right there.

“They play for each other. They just play for each other. I don’t have any five-star, blue chip USTA players. They come and they work for each other, and it’s a team game, and they know that’s the first overall goal is that team one.”

Landis and Patterson were first, finishing off a 6-4, 6-4 win against rivals Caity Buechner and Meaghan Flynn of Seaholm.

“We still wanted to fight for the individual state championship,” Patterson said. “We didn’t want to just think, ‘OK, the team has it, we can just do whatever.’ We wanted it for ourselves, too. And the team did, too.”

Before they could finish their congratulatory hugs, Balardo had finished off her 6-1, 6-2 win against Claire Costa of East Grand Rapids. Balardo hadn’t stepped off the court before Serra and Groves finished their 6-1, 6-3 win against East Grand Rapids’ team of Audrey Devries and Kate Mackeigen. That happened at essentially the same time Roma and Flynn finished their 6-3, 6-1 win against Seaholm’s team of Sam Lareau and Emily McDermott.

“Over half of our team is seniors,” Balardo said. “So we all wanted to go out with a lot of will power and do this.”

While Marian wrapped up its title early, the No. 1 singles final went the distance, just as the first two matches between Okemos’ Alisa Sabotic and Mason’s Olivia Hanover have this season. And just like the first matches did, this one ended with Sabotic coming out victorious.

Sabotic, a sophomore, rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory, capping her first year of high school tennis with an MHSAA title.

“I knew I just had to be prepared for anything,” Sabotic said. “In the last two matches, I had won the first set, but in this one, she won the first set, so that kind of threw me off a little bit. But you just have to be prepared, have to hydrate and eat a lot, because I knew that I was going to need a lot of energy.”

Sabotic responded well to the first-set loss, dominating the second set and jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the third. But Hanover didn’t relent, tying the match at 3-3, and earning a break of Sabotic’s serve after falling behind 5-3. Sabotic was able to finish the match off, however, with a break of her own.

“I was like hyperventilating for a second,” Sabotic said with a laugh. “I kind of told myself, ‘It’s all or nothing. Just play your game, go for the ball, and whatever happens, it’s meant to be.’”

Sabotic’s teammate, Monika Francsics, gave Okemos a sweep of the top two flights, as she defeated Marian’s Breann Lunghamer 6-3, 6-2 for the No. 2 singles title.

Felicia Zhang of Forest Hills Northern rallied to win the No. 3 singles title 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 against Okemos’ Sema Colak.

At No. 3 doubles, Forest Hills Northern’s team of Salonee Marwaha and Claire Tatman fought off a tough opponent and the home crowd with a 6-4, 7-6 (5) win against Holly’s Megan Lesperance and Nicole Johnson.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills Marian's Regan Patterson (right) and McKenna Landis celebrate their doubles championship during Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals. (Middle) Okemos' Alisa Sabotic returns a shot on the way to winning the No. 1 singles title. (Click to see more from

Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.”