Miners Net Deciding Point in D1 Clash

October 2, 2015

By Keith Shelton
Special for Second Half

NEGAUNEE — Negaunee girls tennis coach Kyle Saari knows that come tournament time, it takes that extra bit of effort to put a team over the top.

Negaunee and Escanaba came into Thursday's MHSAA Division 1 Upper Peninsula Finals as virtual equals. Both went undefeated during the season and played to a 4-4 draw against each other. But it was the Miners who dug deep and found that next level, enabling them to repeat as U.P. champions.  

Negaunee edged Escanaba 18-17, with Menominee in third place with seven points.  

"U.P.'s are always a difficult day. Pretty much every year, you need your girls or boys to do something they haven't done during the season in order to be successful today," Saari said. "When you win by one, that's exactly what it came down to for us today." 

The match that put the Miners over the top was No. 3 doubles, where Alexis and Skylar Taavola overcame Escanaba's Katie Ross and Karly Mayville 7-5, 6-4.  

"They lost a heartbreaker at the conference meet the week before, and I told them there was something bigger out there for them. They believed it, and were able to get themselves a title, and that pushed us over for a team title," Saari said.  

Negaunee played Escanaba in a dual Sept. 21, but Alexis and Skylar were moved to No. 2 doubles for that meet, so Thursday was their first look at Escanaba's No. 3 doubles flight.  

"It was kind of hard to get used to them, having never played them before," said Skylar. "We won the first set, and thought we could do it again," added Alexis. "It was just trying to keep calm and play smart. It was close, but it's not always fun to win a blowout. This was fun." 

The Miners also picked up a big win at No. 1 singles, where Angela Ring bounced back to beat Katy Hicks of Kingsford 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.  

"Katy is a great player, and Angie has a ton of respect for her, but at the same time, Angie realizes that if she plays her game, she can be as good as anybody," Saari said. "She's a real level-headed player." 

Hicks looked strong early on with a powerful serve that generated a handful of aces. Her net front ability was also evident, as Hicks frequently made Ring pay for soft lobs near the net.  

"Katy definitely finishes them when you set them up at the service line," Ring said. "I wasn't on early on, but I just started making the game set to my pace instead of hers. I had to continue being consistent."

Ring's twin sister Allison also picked up a victory at No. 2 singles, as she defeated Escanaba's Hannah Beversluis 6-3, 6-2. The title was her first, while Angela won a title at No. 3 her sophomore year and at No. 2 her junior year.  

"Today was the first time I've gone to a three-set match," Angela said. "Allison and I have never both won before." 

Saari said he's enjoyed having the sisters as part of his singles lineup the last few seasons, and praised their quiet leadership.  

"They don't say a lot on the court; they're pretty quiet, stone-faced through the entire match," he said. "It can be tough to get a read on them, but usually when you look at their score cards, they're in the lead, so you kind of just let them be." 

The runner-up Eskymos put six flights in the finals, including all four doubles flights.

The unbeaten No. 1 doubles duo of Emily LaFave and Kayla VanPortfliet never seemed threatened in their final match as they defeated Negaunee's Lauren Anderson and Nicole Violetta 6-0, 6-3.  

"It's bittersweet," said LaFave. "I'm so glad we won and went undefeated, and winning is so much better, but I'm sad that it's over." 

"We never expected this, never," said VanPortfliet. "Kingsford and Negaunee were both great opponents in different ways, and if you get frustrated with them the first time, you have to come back and play them again. It just gets harder each time." 

Taylor Gauthier also completed an undefeated run this season, capping it off with a U.P. title at No. 3 singles. Gauthier defeated Negaunee's Megan Syrjala 6-4, 6-4, ending a long a day for her.  

"I was pretty confident going in, but I was starting to get a little tired, so I was worried," Gauthier said. "It does feel great as a sophomore to get through unbeaten, and the fact that I pulled through being so tired, it feels great." 

Escanaba coach Dennis Lueneberg praised the play of his No. 1 doubles flight from start to finish.  

"In the summer, we didn't know if it would work because Kayla was a singles player," he said. "But we needed something to establish depth. Putting them together, they're friends, and you can see the chemistry click. It's not easy, but I don't think they've even lost a set. They're there every day working at it. 

"I kept telling all the girls to keep working at it," Lueneberg added. "You don't want to have regrets. Maybe some do today, but I thought they played their hearts out. You can only do so much. They'll reflect on it, and learn." 

Escanaba also won at No. 4 doubles. Menominee won the No. 2 doubles and No. 4 singles flights to take third. Gladstone's lone point came at No. 1 singles, when Paige Schwartz played in a semifinal match against Angela Ring. Ring won that match 6-3, 6-0.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Negaunee's Allison Ring defeated Hannah Beversluis of Escanaba in the No. 2 singles final 6-3, 6-2. (Middle) Kingsford's Katy Hicks unleashes her powerful serve at No. 1 singles against Negaunee's Angela Ring. Ring won 1-6, 6-2, 6-3. (Below) Escanaba's Taylor Gauthier at No. 3 singles faces Negaunee's Megan Syrjala. Gauthier won 6-4, 6-4. (Photos by Keith Shelton.) 

Reigning UPD1 Champ Negaunee Setting Pace Again as Finals Approach

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

September 21, 2023

ESCANABA — The Negaunee Miners have been the measuring stick in Upper Peninsula girls tennis for nearly a decade.

Upper PeninsulaNegaunee, 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 VrancicJohn 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.)