Negaunee Extends Title Streak to 3

September 30, 2016

By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half

NEGAUNEE — There’s a budding dynasty in Negaunee.

The girls tennis team was the two-time reigning champion at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals, and on Thursday, the Miners added another title.

Negaunee won four of the eight championship matches to take the overall victory with 16 points. Miners Lexi Peterson and Maci Aho won at No. 3 and No. 4 singles, respectively, while Negaunee took the No. 3 and No. 4 doubles title matches as well.

“There were some question marks coming into this year,” Negaunee coach Kyle Saari said. “We lost two good singles players with the Ring sisters. So we knew we had to replace a No. 1 and No. 2 and get some depth throughout the lineup.

“The thing about all these girls is that they all listen. Anything I tell them, they take it to heart. They attack it with 100 percent effort. They really bought it all year long that they were going to do their best on the last day, and it’s nice that they were rewarded for it.

“The success on both our girls and boys team is that you need solid athletes,” he added. “That’s the key. We are able to get good athletes and good kids as a whole.

“You let them do the work and guide them where you can in certain spots, and it becomes contagious. You get a group of leaders that can help develop the next group, and that’s something that we’ve been fortunate to have the last few years.”

In girls tennis, before this string of three straight titles, Negaunee had shared the title with Kingsford in 2012. Before that, the Miners hadn’t won a U.P. team championship since 1987 in Class C-D.

This fall, Peterson finished her season undefeated, while Aho got some revenge in the finale by defeating Escanaba’s Megan Marenger.

“This feels so great,” Peterson said. “I went undefeated, and to go from JV doubles to varsity and win is awesome. I’m really happy with my year, and I can’t wait to play again.”

“It’s my first year on varsity and I think I did well all around,” Aho said. “The girl I just played (Marenger) beat me during the season, and it was nice to pull it together and get her today and beat her.”

While Saari gave credit to his team for the Miners’ success, Peterson and Aho gave it to their coach.

“If Coach tells us we can fly, we’d be able to fly,” Peterson said. “We practice hard and have fun. We like being close together and make each other better.”

Kingsford and Menominee tied for second place with 10 points each. Katy Hicks won the Flivvers’ only title, taking the No. 1 singles championship, and coach Meagan Harrington was proud of how her cousin played.

“Katy did a great job today,” she said. “She is a really strong player, and she just came out and played her game. She just did great. I’m super proud of her as a senior for her winning GNC (Great Northern Conference) and U.P. this year. It’s great for her to go out that way.”

For Hicks, a U.P. title was a great way to wrap up her career with the Flivvers as she hopes to continue her career at the next level.

“I’m so happy,” she said. “My serves were really good today. It’s really exciting to end it this way. I came in hopeful, and it feels good to win in front of my family.”

The Maroons’ two titles came at Nos. 1 and 2 doubles with both finals victories coming over Kingsford. That wasn’t a surprise as Menominee coach Nickie Mathieu said that was her team’s strength all season.

“All three of them had a chance to win, and they are all very strong,” she said. “We were peaking at the right time. We started out slow, but I told the girls that it is time to peak at the end. They did what I asked.”

Escanaba and Gladstone tied for fourth with six points apiece. Escanaba’s lone win came at No. 2 singles as Taylor Gauthier defeated Marquette’s Elysa Olivier in two sets in the final.

“Taylor has had a good year,” Escanaba coach Denny Lueneburg said. “She has only lost twice this year, and she finished strong. She struggled a little bit earlier in the year, but she got through it and I think that helps. She was a lot calmer in the finals.”

“I thought I had a good chance to win today because I played Marquette before,” Gauthier said. “I get to a lot of balls that are hit short, so I think that helped me out a lot today.”

Gladstone’s best performance came from Andie Balenger, who lost in the No. 3 final to Peterson.

“Andie did well,” Braves coach Halley Reichel said. “She’s a freshman, so we’re happy that she made it that far. I think today she had some nerves she didn’t normally display, and it might’ve just been because she was in the championship. I’m excited to see her continue to get better, though.”

Marquette finished sixth with five points, and despite the lower team finish, coach Derek Sandstrom was content with how his team played.

“Elysa made it to the final today and that was the only girl that she lost to all year,” he said. “She’s had a really nice season in terms of consistency. She’s battled some freshman jitters, but most of the time, she’s been really consistent.

“I thought that Bethany (Wright) at No. 3 singles did well, and she made it to the semis. She had a tough draw last year, so I was happy to see her have some success today. No. 1 (Hannah Swajanen) and No. 4 (Lexi Anderson) singles also got a win for us, so that was nice as well.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Iron Mountain won two singles championships on the way to a third straight team title. (Middle) Kingsford’s Katy Hicks capped her high school career with a title at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Elizabeth Bailey.)

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.”