By Scott Keyes
Special for Second Half
MIDLAND – Utica Davina Nguyen fought through injuries all season long.
Up until a few weeks she didn't even know if she would be back to play for her third Lower Peninsula Division 1 No. 1 singles championship.
Despite the adversity, Nguyen played her best tennis of the season this weekend, making history by winning her third consecutive MHSAA Finals championship at. No. 1 singles – and becoming just the sixth player to win the top flight at least three times.
Nguyen won in grand style by defeating rival Ava Thielman of Utica Eisenhower, 6-3, 6-3, at the Greater Midland Tennis Center.
While Nguyen continued to rewrite the record books in singles competition, Northville added a page of its own by winning its first-ever MHSAA girls tennis title.
"I had some nagging injuries this season that really slowed me down, but I knew I was going to be back this season. But it really was a matter of when it was going to happen," said Nguyen, who will play her college tennis at Michigan State University. "Winning three straight titles is an amazing feeling. The support from my friends and family has been tremendous."
Thielman had defeated Nguyen twice before this season. But carrying the pressure of the MHSAA Finals, the senior (Nguyen) prevailed over the sophomore (Thielman).
"When you get to this point in the season, there is a lot of pressure on you to get the job done, but I did it," Nguyen said. "It's an amazing feeling to win three state titles."
Northville won five flights to finish with 33 points. Midland Dow (28), Grosse Pointe South (22), Ann Arbor Pioneer (18) and Traverse City Central (17) rounded out the top five.
"We played in a lot of big tournaments this season against very tough competition from around the state to help prepare us for the tournament," Northville coach Linda Jones said. "We expected our doubles to carry us through, but our No. 2 and No. 3 singles came through and beat Dow (in the finals), and those were key points there."
"It came down to those matches, and they put us over the top."
Shanoli Kumar (Northville) defeated Jessica Brown (Midland Dow) 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 singles, while Joanne Gao (Northville) defeated Elaina Parrillo (Midland Dow) 4-6, 6 -3, 6-2, at No. 3.
But it was in doubles where Northville has dominated all season – and did again Saturday.
The Mustangs went undefeated in all four doubles flights all season until Saturday, when Midland Dow's No. 1 pair of Afua Ofori-Darko and Kamryn Matthews upset Anika Mukherji and Reeshma Kumar 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Northville earned championships at the three remaining flights – Paige Baal and Claudia Ma at No. 2, Jordan Hermiz and Amelia Albanelli at No. 3, and Serena Wang and Molly Bis at No. 4.
"It's staggering," said Jones of the doubles play all season.
Midland Dow coach Garrett Turner was extremely impressed with the play of Northville.
“They came out swinging and firing on all cylinders,” he said.
“We played really, really well. (Friday) we had four three-set matches we won. Today we had three three-set matches we won in the semifinals.”
The runner-up finish was Midland Dow's first since 2010 when it followed up Ann Arbor Pioneer.
PHOTOS: (Top) Northville's coaches and athletes pose with the first MHSAA team championship trophy in the school’s girls tennis history. (Middle) Davina Nguyen of Utica receives her championship medal after winning her third title at No. 1 singles. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).
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.)