Negaunee, Gauthier Dominate D1 Finals

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 28, 2017

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.”

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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.)

Adams' Fu Hoping to Write Championship Headline After Repeat Finalist Finishes

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

May 23, 2024

ROCHESTER HILLS — An editor for her school newspaper the last two years, Nicole Fu is one who loves to tell good stories and write good headlines. 

Greater DetroitA junior at Adams, Fu enjoys getting to know people around the school and giving them a moment in the sun, so to speak.

“I love being able to talk with so many people and learn the stories behind their accomplishments,” Fu said.

It’s ironic, because come the end of next Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Girls Tennis Finals, Fu hopes professional media outlets around the state will talk about her own story of accomplishment, possibly with headlines such as “Redemption Feels Sweet for Fu” or “Third Time is Charm for Adams Tennis Star.”

Both the last two years, Fu has advanced to the championship match at No. 1 singles in Division 1. 

But while quite an accomplishment to do so as a freshman and sophomore, she also left somewhat unsatisfied, losing in 2022 to Reese Miller of Ann Arbor Pioneer (6-1, 6-1) and last spring to Sari Woo of Ann Arbor Skyline (6-3, 6-4). 

“Being in the final both my freshman and sophomore years has shown me that I have what it takes to win a state championship even when it gets tough,” Fu said. “Last year especially has shown me that I’m not far from the title, and staying strong both mentally and physically is going to be crucial to hopefully winning a state title.”

No doubt, Fu should be one of the top contenders, if not the favorite.

She enters with an 18-0 record and has brilliantly handled opponents attempting to give her their best performances.

“Her ability to handle the pressure has improved a lot,” Adams head coach Greg Burks said. “She has matured as a top-level player and competes as well as any player I’ve ever had.”

Fu, left, congratulates Ann Arbor Skyline's Sari Woo after their match.Fu actually said she got her start in tennis a little later than most. After dabbling in soccer and swimming, Fu started playing tennis at age 10 when one of her mom’s co-workers gave her a foam ball and a kids racquet. 

“Then I started hitting against our living room wall, and one day my mom asked if I wanted to take an actual tennis lesson,” Fu said. 

From there, Fu started playing in tournaments, and the tennis bug bit her.

“I really loved competing in matches, so I didn’t stop and it ended up being very rewarding,” she said.

Fu also has an accomplished hitting partner in twin sister Katie, who lost in the championship match at No. 2 singles last year. 

“She’s always a great hitting partner, and it’s really nice to have someone who understands the sport and what it takes to balance that out with everything else,” Nicole Fu said. “She’s basically my second brain too, so having her around during the season is super fun and helpful for keeping me in check.”

Fu has a collegiate future in the sport, having committed in November to play tennis at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

“Obviously the education is extraordinary, and attending a service academy builds your character both physically and mentally and sets you up to make an impact on the nation,” Fu said. 

When it comes to next week’s MHSAA Tournament, Fu obviously is aiming to make another impact at the championship level – but this time finish the quest she fell short of the last two years. 

“This year as a back-to-back finalist and a strong favorite has put a lot of pressure on me to win my matches,” she said. “So there’s definitely a lot of expectations for this season, and managing that was a little bit tough in the beginning of the season. But over time I’ve kind of learned to embrace it, and it’s given me more confidence in my matches knowing I’m the player people are aiming to beat.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Rochester Adams' Nicole Fu returns a volley during last season's No. 1 singles championship match at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Fu, left, congratulates Ann Arbor Skyline's Sari Woo after their match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)