Negaunee Edges Rival to Earn D1 Title

By John Vrancic
Special for

October 9, 2014

KINGSFORD — It has been quite a battle between Negaunee and Kingsford for the Upper Peninsula Division 1 girls tennis championship the past three seasons.

They shared the title two years ago. Kingsford then was crowned champion and Negaunee was runner-up last season.

It was Negaunee’s turn to gain top honors Wednesday as it won 4 of 8 flights and scored 16 points. Runner-up Kingsford had 13, followed by Escanaba with 11, Gladstone with six and Menominee and Marquette at three apiece.

The Miners made title-round appearances in all four singles flights and No. 2 doubles.

Negaunee’s Lauren Anderson and Kassey Harsila prevailed in that doubles final, topping Kingsford’s Anna Hornick and Tara DelSanto 6-1, 7-5.

Getting to the finals alone was no easy task for Anderson-Harsila, who edged Gladstone’s Bailey Griebel-Carly DeVet 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) in the semifinals.

“That was really a key for us,” Negaunee coach Kyle Saari said. “The singles have been our strength all year, but we needed to get points somewhere in doubles. Fortunately, Lauren and Kassey came through for us and we were able to win a couple three-setters and tie-breakers.”

The Miners added three victories in singles, including senior Allison Carlson’s 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 triumph over Kingsford’s Janay Walters at No. 1 on a sunny, but chilly and windy day.

“I just stayed positive in the third set,” said Carlson, who also won at No. 1 singles last year. “Late in the second set, I tried to do some things to build momentum for the third set. I definitely had to fight for this one. I couldn’t go for the corners because the wind would carry the ball out of bounds. I had to keep the ball in the middle.”

After the tournament, Saari took a few moments to pay tribute to Carlson’s career.

“Allison probably had one of the finest careers at our school on the girls side,” he said. “She’s everything you want for a No. 1 singles player. Once you get to a third set, mental toughness becomes a big factor, especially after losing the second set.”

Negaunee’s Angela Ring clipped Kingsford’s Katy Hicks (6-2, 6-3) in No. 2 singles and senior Dana DeBretto beat Escanaba’s Kayla VanPortfliet (6-4, 6-2) at No. 3 on a day when groundstrokes were the rule.

“Groundstrokes have been my main advantage throughout the year,” said DeBretto, who captured the No. 4 singles title a year ago. “I wanted to hit fast-paced groundstrokes. I was trying to keep the ball close to the net and let the wind do its thing. As long as I was hitting the ball faster, the less chance there was for the wind to carry it.”

Escanaba sophomore Hannah Beversluis prevented the Miners from sweeping singles with a 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Allison Ring at No. 4.

“Everything about my game is a lot more consistent this year, especially my serving,” said Beversluis, who placed fourth in that flight last season. “It’s easier to predict where the ball is going to go. There’s more strategy to it, which makes it more fun.”

Beversluis was trailing 2-1 in the second set, but rallied to take the next three points for a 4-2 lead.

“In the finals, I played one of my best matches of the season,” she added. “Although, it was a little more complicated with the extra factors. The wind was a disadvantage for both players. It was pretty hard playing the first match because it was so cold (with temperatures in the 30s). My hands actually got numb.”

Escanaba is coached by Dennis Lueneburg, who already returned to California for the winter. Assistant Ernie Burch handled the coaching duties in his absence.

The situation provided motivation for many of Escanaba’s players, including seniors Olivia LaForest and Angie LaMarche, who were crowned No. 4 doubles champions.

“We wanted to win it for Denny,” said LaForest, who was part of the No. 3 doubles championship team a year ago. “Through the season he kept reminding us to take it one point at a time. We talked to Denny on the phone before the meet and he told us it was 75 degrees out there. We kept trying to pretend we were with him in California.”

LaMarche had similar thoughts.

“This was our last year with him and it was like he was here in spirit,” she said. “I didn’t really think of this as a championship match. We just tried to play it like any other match.”

Kingsford’s lone title came in No. 1 doubles where seniors Ali VanRemortel and Jaeylyn Jennings rallied past Gladstone’s Anna Carmella and Paige Schwartz 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.

“We kept reminding ourselves how much we wanted it,” VanRemortel said. “Gladstone has a good team. They’ve improved from earlier this season.”

Jennings also was impressed by the Gladstone duo.

“We beat them handily during the regular season,” she said. “Although, we hadn’t played them since early in the season. We didn’t know what to expect. They played much better against us this time.”

Menominee claimed a doubles title at No. 3 as Madison McDonell and Jade LeMay beat Kingsford’s Noell Smith-Heather Harris 6-2, 6-1.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Negaunee poses with its UP Division 1 tennis championship trophy; bottom from left: Allison Ring, Lauren Anderson, Angie Ring, Kassy Harsila, Allison Carlson. Top: Assistant coach Cody Scanlon, Megan Syrjala, Brooke Bossert, Hanna Kantola, Katrina Turecky, Elly Kantola, Dana DeBretto, head coach Kyle Saari. (Middle) Kingsford's Ali VanRemortel eyes up the ball during her No. 1 doubles final against Anna Caramella and Paige Schwartz of Gladstone. VanRemortel and Jaeylyn Jennings won the match 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. (Below) Negaunee's Dana DeBretto serves the ball during her No. 3 singles final against Kayla VanPortfleit of Escanaba. DeBretto won the match 6-4, 6-2. (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.”