KINGSFORD — Sending six players into a championship round never hurts a tennis team.
Winning all six flights is even better.
The Negaunee girls made that happen Wednesday, earning their fourth straight Upper Peninsula Division 1 title with 18 points at Kingsford High School.
They were followed by Marquette with 13, Escanaba eight, Menominee six, Gladstone four and Kingsford with three.
“You always want to play your best in the U.P. Finals and putting six in the finals puts you into a pretty good position,” said Negaunee coach Kyle Saari. “Winning all six matches is a by-product of having some depth. We were pushed in some matches. It was good to see the girls respond under pressure.”
The Miners swept doubles, with two flights going to a third set. Skylar and Lexi Taavila turned back Marquette’s Rachel Ely and Carly Sandstrom 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 in No. 2 doubles and Faith Toutant-Jillian Skewis outlasted Marquette’s Sydney Kivi-Campbell Kallio 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 at No. 4.
“Even though we lost the second set in each match, the girls showed some mental toughness by coming through,” said Saari. “They treated it like there was no pressure.”
Abby Nelson and Mykenna Kontio topped Marquette’s Ely Wellner-Kendell Klatt 6-4, 7-5 in No. 1 doubles and Alexis Hill-Kalli Mattson beat Kingsford juniors Sarah Premo-Grace Lorenzoni 6-0, 7-5 at No. 3.
Premo and Lorenzoni led 5-4 in the second set before Nelson and Kontio rallied for the win.
Negaunee’s Lexi Peterson won No. 3 singles 7-5, 6-1 over Menominee’s Jenna Nolde, and Maci Aho downed Marquette’s Molly Kilpela 6-2, 6-3 in No. 4.
“Megan Syrjala is in a unique situation in that she’s part of four U.P. championship teams,” said Saari. “Even though Megan didn’t get to the finals today, she’s a big part of our program. We have a group of seven close-knit seniors. This is a group that will be missed.”
Syrjala reached the semifinals where she dropped a 7-5, 6-2 decision to Escanaba senior Taylor Gauthier.
“Taylor played very good today,” said Syrjala, who will enroll at Northern Michigan University next fall. “She hit a lot of short shots and made me run to the ball. It’s mentally draining to play somebody who’s that consistent.”
Wednesday’s championship also enabled the Miners to complete their second straight perfect season.
“To go undefeated two years in a row shows the depth of our team,” said Syrjala. “It just means so much to be part of four U.P. championship teams. A lot of it is mental toughness. Coach Saari does such a good job teaching us about mental toughness and none of this would be possible without God. I often find myself turning to Him (for guidance).”
Gauthier went on to clinch her third U.P. title with a 6-2, 6-0 triumph over Marquette senior Hannah Swajanen in No. 1 singles.
“I thought I played pretty well today, and the semifinal match was the best I ever played,” said Gauthier. “I especially felt good about how I played in the second set against Megan and felt pretty confident going into the finals. I split with Hannah in the regular season and knew she had a real good shot. I was really surprised by the margin of victory because she beat me pretty good the last time. I was nervous coming in here. It feels great to be a U.P. champion three years in a row.”
In No. 2 singles, Marquette sophomore Elyse Olivier captured her first U.P. title in a 6-3, 6-0 win over Escanaba senior Megan Marenger.
Olivier cruised to a 4-0 lead in the first set. Marenger then made things interesting by taking the next three points.
“(Marenger) is a good player,” said Olivier, who went undefeated this year. “She doesn’t give up, and I think that helped her against Negaunee (in a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Jesse Sager). I kind of lost focus, then our coach (Derek Sandstrom) talked to me and helped settle me down.
"Our whole team is very supportive and my dad is my offseason coach. My older brother Alec (two-time U.P. champ) has also helped me out. I couldn’t have done this without them.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Negaunee No. 1 doubles player Mykenna Kontio returns a shot during Wednesday’s Division 1 Finals at Kingsford. (Middle) Escanaba senior Taylor Gauthier volleys on her way to a No. 1 singles championship. (Photos by Adam Niemi.)
ISHPEMING — There was both a single reason and a singles reason why Iron Mountain won the championship at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Tennis Finals played at Westwood High School on Thursday.
The difference is subtle — just a single letter “s” — but rings true both ways.
It was easy to see what the Mountaineers’ secret was — sweep the titles at every singles flight while adding one more in doubles just to be on the safe side.
IM finished with 19 points, while Ishpeming outdueled West Iron County in several late finals to eke out second place by one point, 14 to 13.
Gwinn posted five points to take fourth, while Munising had four, Norway one and Ironwood did not score.
Mountaineers coach Marcus Celello credited senior leadership for the team’s repeat championship.
“We have eight seniors on our team, including all four of our regular singles players and both our No. 1 doubles players, along with one each on Nos. 3 and 4 doubles,” the IM coach said.
He noted that all those singles flights were winners with the team’s championship in doubles also coming with the pair of seniors at No. 1.
“We won this last year and returned our core, so I knew we would at least be very competitive this year,” Celello said. “We won or tied every dual meet this season.”
He said that included a 4-4 tie against eventual U.P. Division 1 champion Negaunee to give the Miners the only blemish on their dual-meet record this fall.
“But sometimes when you haven’t faced adversity, it can be scary,” the coach continued. “You don’t always know how you’re going to react.”
No. 2 singles player Aziza Burgoon — of course, a senior — completed an undefeated season by winning a marathon final over WIC’s Seanna Stine, 7-5, 7-5.
IM also got singles titles from No. 3 Natalia Brown and No. 4 Rediet Husing, along with a doubles championship from No. 1 Elle Lofholm and Anja Kleiman.
But the biggest cheers and shrieks came after IM finished its singles sweep when No. 1 Callie Bianco pulled off a 6-4, 6-4 win over Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel.
Schiefel led 4-2 in the second set looking to force a deciding third before Bianco won the final four games.
“I just was trying to stay focused, work the ball and follow through,” Bianco said. “And maybe the most important thing was to be patient, not panic.
“I’m known for being an impatient player. When I’m on, I like to be aggressive, but I know that when I’m not on, I have to focus on being patient.”
Asked if she was “on” Thursday, she was emphatic with her “Yes I was!”
One coach trying to be patient but excited for next season is Ishpeming’s Kaitlin Rich, who watched her junior-laden team set the groundwork for a big season next fall.
“We’ve already made a big improvement from last year,” she said. “I’m proud of how hard our girls have worked to make that improvement.
“Half of our players are dual-sport athletes, which means they’re playing another sport this fall, too, so they really have to balance their workload.”
The Hematites carted off one championship, one of the last finishing finals matches at No. 3 doubles when Kaitlyn VanDeuren and Paige Palomaki had to win a third-set tiebreaker to defeat WIC’s Bailey Hoffart and Aubrey Richardson 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1).
That result decided the runner-up position team-wise as a Wykons’ win would’ve reversed their point totals and places in the standings.
“We had five finalists, at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 1, 2 and 3 doubles,” Rich said. “We return nine of our juniors next year, so I’m really looking forward to next year. I think we should be ready to make a run at the U.P.’s (title) next year.
“Kaitlyn and Paige, those two by far are the most improved players from last year,” the Ishpeming coach added.
WIC veteran coach Joe Serbentas was philosophical after his players won a pair of doubles titles, at No. 2 with sisters Autumn Smith and Kaitlyn Smith and at No. 4 with Destiny Lemery and Olivia Lamay.
“We’ve played well at the U.P.’s the last five or six years, but we also seemed to come up that point short,” he said. “Iron Mountain is so senior-loaded, you just knew that they were the big favorites today.
“We had a 5-7-1 record in dual meets, but we play a lot of the best teams in the U.P., so I still think that’s pretty good.”
Gwinn made a run at a U.P. flight championship for the first time in a number of years with Schiefel at No. 1 singles, much to her coach’s delight.
“She has such a passion for the sport, and she’s such an avid athlete,” Modeltowners coach Darcia Mattson said. “She runs track and is a phenomenal basketball player. She trains at AdvantEdge (athletic training facility in Marquette).
“She used to play tennis against her brother, Jared Rolland.
“And she’s not a big girl at all, but her heart is twice as big as she is.”
PHOTOS (Top) The Iron Mountain and Ishpeming No. 2 doubles pairs face off during a semifinal. (Middle) Anja Kleiman gets a racket on the ball during her and partner Elle Lofholm’s match at No. 1 doubles. (Below) Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel returns a volley at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Steve Brownlee.)