Munising's 'Road Warriors' Claim 1st Title

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 30, 2015

KINGSFORD — They call themselves the road warriors, and for good reason. 

The Munising girls don’t play any of their tennis meets at home because they don’t have enough courts in their community. Playing on the road is nothing new to them. 

The Mustangs were rewarded for their efforts Wednesday as they squeezed past Iron Mountain 16-15 for their first MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 title. Six-time defending champion Westwood slipped to third this time with 12 points.

“We started our program nine years ago on two courts,” said Munising coach Rod Gendron. “We still have two courts. This is very challenging because there’s definitely a home court advantage for our opponents. 

“We’ve had great individual players in the past, but this is the first year we’ve had a very solid team. A lot of these girls play two sports. They’ve given a great effort and have great attitudes.”

Junior Sydney McInnis and senior Morgan Flynn put the finishing touches to Munising’s championship run with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Westwood’s Cayla Ostola and Sierra Laitinen in the No. 4 doubles final on this sunny and seasonably cool day at Kingsford High School. 

“This hasn’t been much of a change for us,” McInnis said. “We’re used to playing away from home. We get used to it. It’s just kind of habit for us. We were beating ourselves in the second set, but kind of settled down in the third set. I think our whole team really worked hard for this.”

How does a tennis team practice with just two courts available? 

“We practice two hours a day before school starts,” said junior Frankie Mattson. “Once school starts we practice 1½ hours each day. We practice in shifts and do some match play, but we’ve never hosted a meet.”

Juniors Bailey Downs and Marissa Immel captured the No. 2 doubles title in a 6-0, 6-3 conquest of West Iron County’s Allie Schive and Sydney Schram. 

“We were down 3-0 in the second set,” said Downs. “We told each other, ‘We’re going to get this.’ We got some good shots and that got us excited. We were strong at the net.”

Immel had similar thoughts. 

“We stayed positive and fed off each other,” she said. “Our groundstrokes worked pretty well and our volleys went well. We had a lot of momentum carry over from the semifinals (from a 6-0, 6-3 triumph over Iron Mountain’s Grace Hansen and Lindsay Morel). We’ve been best friends since we were little. We know each other pretty well.”

Sophomore Kelsea Ackerman added a fourth title for Munising at No. 4 singles, taking a 6-2, 6-0 decision from Westwood’s Karlie Kargela. 

“The first set was kind of slow, but I had a lot of momentum for the second set,” Ackerman said. “I slowed down my racket and got the ball in. I tried to win points rather than counting on my opponents’ mistakes. I just tried to be patient and it worked well. My groundstrokes worked in certain situations, and I went for angle shots when I got closer to the net.

“I think this means a lot to the team. We have a strong junior class and appreciate our seniors stepping up. I thought we did great.” 

Iron Mountain captured the most flight championships, four, including the top three singles and No. 1 doubles.

Senior Katie Brule was crowned champion for the fourth straight year, gaining a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Mattson at No. 1 singles. 

“That’s the best I’ve been all season,” Brule said. “My coach (Greg Stegall) keeps telling me to relax and play like I do in practice. I knew my serves had to be good and did better with those in the second set. Frankie is a good player. She’s very consistent. I worked on shot placement and kept coming to the net.”

Senior sisters Emily and Katie Bugni also collected their fourth championship with a 6-2, 6-0 triumph over Ishpeming seniors Libbie Doney and Hailly Thompson at No. 1 doubles. 

“We were hitting real well and worked together well,” said Emily. “We’ve been playing together for a long time. The Ishpeming girls are good players. It was a little nerve-wracking at first because there were a few teams here we hadn’t played. It was really a nice day for the Finals. It was a perfect day for tennis.”

Katie said the Finals were little emotional for them. 

“It’s kind of sad because we’re not going to be playing high school tennis again,” she added. “This is real special to us. We have a lot of nice memories.”

Olivia Truscott provided the Mountaineers with a title at No. 2 singles, which she topped Munising’s Marissa Ackerman 7-6 (7-5). She then won the second set by default. 

At No. 3 singles, Iron Mountain’s Emily Chang beat West Iron’s Katarina Serbentas 6-3, 6-3.


Westwood won No. 3 doubles, as Averie Kangas and Rachel Hunt beat Munising's Taylor Kahlstorf and Abi Brown for that title.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Munising's Frankie Mattson connects on a shot during her No. 1 singles championship match Wednesday. (Middle) Katie Brule of Iron Mountain returns a shot to Mattson during their final; Brule defeated Mattson 6-2, 6-1. (Below) Emily Bugni of Iron Mountain unloads a backhand during the No. 1 doubles final. She and sister Kate Bugni defeated Ishpeming's Libbie Doney and Hailly Thompson 6-2, 6-0. (Photos by Keith Shelton.)

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.”