Next Negaunee Standouts Take Title Turn

By John Vrancic
Special for

October 5, 2018

KINGSFORD — The Negaunee girls continued their winning ways at Thursday’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Tennis Finals, earning their fifth straight championship with 15 points.

They were followed by Marquette with 13, Menominee nine, Kingsford eight, Gladstone six and Escanaba with two.

“We knew coming in that Marquette and Menominee would push us,” said Negaunee coach Kyle Saari. “We needed to get a number of our flights into the finals, and we got 6-of-8, which put us in good position. You just have to focus on the job ahead of you once you get in.”

The Miners clinched the title with senior Maci Aho’s 6-4, 6-1 victory over Marquette’s Mollie Kilpela in No. 2 singles. 

“I didn’t know our match was going to decide it,” said Aho, who won at No. 4 singles the past two seasons. “I tried not to worry about the team standings and focused on doing my job. I just sprinted to every ball, and Mollie did the same. She’s a very good player. I don’t have a special shot. I just do what I do.”

Negaunee sophomores Morgan Carlson and Katelyn Lammi completed a perfect season (21-0) with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Menominee’s Abbie Anglehart and Meghan Francour in No. 3 doubles for their first title on a sunny and seasonably cool day in Dickinson County.

“I think it went pretty well,” said Lammi. “We didn’t play at our best, but we did well at the net. Winning here for the first time is a pretty big confidence boost.”

Both girls believe Thursday’s championship will be a major motivator going forward. 

“We know where our strengths are and what we need to work on,” said Carlson. “I felt we moved around pretty well, which is what our coaches wanted us to do. Only, you have to know when to attack and when to back off.”

The Miners were facing the possibility of rebuilding after graduating seven from last year’s team. 

“We’re pretty sophomore heavy, but every girl stepped up,” said Saari. “We just hope to keep it going as long as we can. This has been a fun year in the U.P. Each team presented a different challenge. The most important thing is the girls didn’t get complacent. They were able to stay focused.”

Marquette junior Elysa Olivier won No. 1 singles with a 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) triumph over Gladstone junior Andie Belanger. 

“She’s a real good player,” said Olivier, who won at No. 2 singles a year ago. “Andie has gotten so much better since the first time I played her. I was real nervous coming into the finals. There were times when I lost my focus. We both hit some great shots. 

“The other players really stay on their game (in No. 1 singles). Next year won’t be a picnic, but I’m really looking forward to it. I’m definitely going to play over the summer.”

Olivier was also happy with how the season went overall. 

“ I’m really proud of our team,” she added. “We’re losing a lot of good players and friends, but I’m looking forward to playing with the new girls next year.”

Negaunee, Marquette and Menominee won two flights apiece. Gladstone and Kingsford took one each.

Click for finals results

PHOTOS: (Top) Negaunee won its fifth straight MHSAA Finals championship Thursday. (Middle) Marquette’s Elysa Olivier returns a volley on the way to claiming the No. 1 singles title. (Photos by Adam Niemi.)

Reigning UPD1 Champ Negaunee Setting Pace Again as Finals Approach

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 21, 2023

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

Upper PeninsulaNegaunee, 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 VrancicJohn 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.)