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