Motivation Not in Short Supply as Country Day Emerges, Avenges with Finals Win

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

June 1, 2024

KALAMAZOO - Fueled by a Finals runner-up finish last year and second-place Regional showing two weeks ago, Detroit Country Day unseated two-time reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood on Saturday and clinched this season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 girls tennis championship.

Country Day totaled 33 points at Kalamazoo College's Stowe Stadium to win its first crown since 2021. Cranbrook Kingswood earned second with 29 points, followed by Chelsea (24), Bloomfield Hills Marian (22) and Ada Forest Hills Eastern (21).

"We knew coming in that either us or Cranbrook Kingswood could win this meet. I just felt like our fight and courage were excellent, and that's what happens when everything falls into place. I'm so happy for these girls," said Country Day's first-year head coach Nick Fiaschetti. "This team is incredible. Our seniors are our biggest leaders, and everyone is like a family – and when you have that combination, it makes you difficult to beat."

Country Day didn't let its latest championship chance slip through its grasp. Cranbrook edged Country Day by just two points in 2023. The Cranes (20 points) also edged the Yellowjackets (17) to win their Regional two weeks ago.

"Country Day is a very good team. It really comes down to how well players handle the pressure. The teams that stay relaxed the most generally are the one that wins a state championship,” Cranbrook coach Grant Asher said. “We came up a bit short this year, but I'm proud of our girls. They competed well from the start until the end of the season. We look forward to next season,"

Cranbrook Kingswood’s Kayli Lala returns a volley during her No. 1 doubles matchCountry Day claimed flight titles at No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 singles, along with a crown at No. 1 doubles.

At No. 1 singles, Sophia Grzesiak defeated Forest Hills Eastern's Lilah Zaskowski in the final 6-1, 6-1.

"I'm just really proud of winning an individual title because it helps our quest for the team title. We lost Regionals, but I feel like it gave us the push we needed to come out this weekend and win it all," Grzesiak said.

At No. 3 singles, Helen Benjamin from Country Day topped Muskan Rekhani from Forest Hills Eastern 6-3, 6-1.

"I had to adjust my strategy to get all the balls in. I just had to be consistent and aggressive,” Benjamin said. “My approach shot and putting it away for the point are my biggest strengths. Our captains are great, and we are all very good friends and mentally strong."

At No. 4 singles, Country Day's Katie Han outlasted Cranbrook's Olivia Zhang 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

The Yellowjackets’ No. 1 doubles combination of Marin Nolander and Peja Liles edged Chelsea's duo of Meghan Bareis and Haley Hopkins 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.

"They came out strong and aggressive and we found our momentum in the second set," Norlander said.

"We played our game and had fun. Our net play really helped us out as well," Liles added.

Chelsea unseeded sophomore Samantha Bieber downed Country Day's top-seeded Quinn Norlander 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, to win No. 2 singles.

"(Norlander) seemed to be struggling with balls hit to her backhand, so I decided to take advantage of that,” Bieber said. “My groundstrokes are strong, and I think my endurance plays a big part in my success. Just being able to stick with it helps me in tough matches."

Bieber's high fitness level comes from being a dual-sport athlete in track & field. She competed in this weekend's Tennis Finals because it’s her primary sport, but she qualified for the Track Finals as well as a member of two Bulldogs relay teams.  

"Running helps me mentally because in a race you have to keep pushing, so that helps me in tennis and it also teaches me time management," Bieber added.

Cranbrook showed its dominance in the doubles flights by winning at No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. Sophia Kouza and Grace Zhang squeaked out a 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 win over Chelsea's Lucy Taylor and Brenna Taylor at No. 2, and the Cranes' No. 3 tandem of Madeline Day and Sanvi Upadhyayula were victorious over Marian's Audrey Agbay and Yana Higgins 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-3. Cranbrook's No. 4 junior duo of Michelle Chen and Jessica Hall defeated Marian's Laura Higdon and Stella Glorio 6-2, 6-3.

"We had a lot of highs and lows today," Day said. "Our camaraderie helps keep our spirits up even when one of us is down."

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PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Country Day’s Marin Norlander prepares to serve during a No. 1 doubles match Friday. (Middle) Cranbrook Kingswood’s Kayli Lala returns a volley during her No. 1 doubles match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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