Marquette Ends Negaunee 5-Year Reign

October 2, 2019

By Ryan Spitza
Special for Second Half

NEGAUNEE — All good things must come to an end. 

After a five-year run as Upper Peninsula Division 1 champion, the Negaunee girls tennis team was dethroned by Marquette on Wednesday at the MHSAA Final played at the Negaunee Tennis Complex. 

The Redettes claimed the team title for the first time since 2005, earning 17 points to the Miners' 10. Menominee was third with seven points, while Kingsford and Escanaba each had six and Gladstone three. 

Marquette advanced to six out of eight flight finals, including all four singles matches, while the Miners advanced to three. The Maroons also competed in three flights, while the Flivvers made it to two flights and the Braves and Eskymos each to one. 

It was a long time coming for Marquette, and head coach Derek Sandstrom has seen many athletes come through the program over the years who came up just a little bit short. 

"It's been a while; it's been a long time," he said. "We've had a lot of great girls along the way who didn't get to this point, but I don't want to belittle them at all. We've had some great tennis players and great kids come through this program. This group is just the one that brought home a trophy." 

Marquette had two losses in duals all season, both to the Miners. Those meetings were close though, and Sandstrom knew that things could've gone either way Wednesday. 

“A couple of bounces here and there is all it takes,” Sandstrom said. “We played tough with Negaunee during the regular season. I told the girls, the last meet we played them, they won the match score but if you look at the actual scorecard, each team won 10. We were there, we just had to do something to get over the hump. Individually, some of the girls found their way." 

The Redettes claimed four finals flights, two singles and two doubles. 

In the top singles flight, Elysa Olivier topped Menominee's Jenna Nolde to cap an undefeated senior season and earn the third individual Finals title of her high school career. 

"I just tried to focus and have fun," Olivier said. "We played earlier in the season, and I beat (Nolde) 6-0, 6-4 that time. She's a very good player."

Piercing cold weather in the 40s throughout the day didn't affect Olivier, who topped Nolde in two sets again, this time 6-0, 6-2. 

"I actually prefer playing in the cold rather than the sun," Olivier said. "I don't really like serving into the sun. I don't think (cold) really affects you at all. You just need to conserve your energy." 

Olivier will look to join her older brother Alec as part of the Ferris State University tennis programs next season. 

The Redettes' other singles win came in the No. 2 flight, with fellow senior Mollie Kilpela topping Menominee's Josie Hofer in two sets, 7-6, 7-6. 

Marquette also claimed Nos. 3 and 4 doubles, with the team of Zoey Brian and Ruth Hummell topping Escanaba’s Maddy Michica and Gracie Wickham 6-4, 6-4 in the third flight, while Julianna Golisek and Alyson LaBelle defeated Kingsford's Liz Penegor and Jenna Olkkonen 6-0, 6-0 at No. 4. 

Sandstrom was pleased with his team's performance, and said this is only a small chapter in their lives ahead. 

"The girls played well," he said. "We had some ups and downs throughout the year. Elysa and Mollie, they were the runner of the ship and we just followed their lead. We finally kept up with them all the way to the end of the year. 

"I'm really proud of the girls. It's just a really cool group of kids. None of them are peaking at high school. They're all going to go on to bigger and better things, and this is something they'll remember when they come back for their 10-year class reunion and stuff like that. I'm proud of the way they came together as a team, and they all genuinely love each other. That's the cool part." 

It was the end of a half-decade run for Negaunee, but the Miners still had a strong day winning three championship matches.

Lexi Mason defeated Marquette's Campbell Kallio at No. 3 singles in two sets, 6-3, 7-5. Negaunee also claimed the top two doubles flights, with the team of Morgan Carlson and Katelyn Lammi topping Menominee's Megan Francour and Emma Anderson 6-2, 6-1 at No. 1, and the team of Shaylee Menhennick and Tianna Williams edging Gladstone's Emily Marenger and Emma DeLaire 6-3, 6-2. 

Miners coach Kyle Saari said it was a year of exciting challenges for his team, and he was proud of the way his players battled throughout a season of learning.

"Each and every year is fun," he said. "As you come into it, each and every year presents a little different and unique challenge. I was very pleased with the way we ended up going through the regular season with a team that was kind of learning on the go and learning as we kind of transitioned. I'm proud of our girls in that regard. 

"What happens sometimes when you enter those tournament situations at the end of the year, sometimes that becomes the time where girls don't really know what to expect. A lot of girls will return next year. I think they've learned a lot from the conference and U.P. tournaments in terms of preparation and how to handle a match day and things like that. That'll be good for us moving forward." 

Saari credited his three individual champions as well as the Redettes for putting out strong finals performances. 

"At No. 1, Morgan and Katelyn have been super consistent all year long. They're good friends, they're both good athletes and their games have complemented each other well,” he said. “They've been good leaders for our team as a whole and the way that they practice, the way that they support the other girls, it's good to see them rewarded. 

"Lexi at No. 3 singles put together a really solid year. She got better each time out and was definitely deserving of that No. 3 singles championship.

"Looking at the performance as a whole, the key for anybody is always getting flights through to the finals. Marquette had a tremendous day. They played well throughout their lineup and put six in the finals. We had three. We were able to win all three, but to win a U.P. Final, your depth really has to carry you. Some days it does, and some it doesn't." 

The only final that didn't go to the Miners or Redettes was No. 4 singles, which saw Kingsford's Lizzy Cross defeat Marquette's Haddie Ketzenberger 6-3, 6-2. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette's Elysa Olivier returns a volley during a No. 1 singles match Wednesday. (Middle) Negaunee's Jillian Skewis sends the ball back while playing No. 2 singles (Photos by Amy Grigas).

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.”