Olivier Adds to Family Success on Court

September 20, 2018

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ESCANABA — Elyse Olivier has come full circle in her love for tennis.

The Marquette High School junior has been playing since eighth grade, but as part of a huge tennis family she was not into the sport until the past couple of years.

“I was never pressured to play,” she said after sweeping a pair of 6-0 decisions recently at a match at Escanaba High School. “It was always an option.”

Her dad, Wayne, is a long-time accomplished tennis fanatic. Her brother Alec, a Marquette senior, is unbeaten in three seasons with the Redmen. She also has two younger brothers.

Tennis has become a passion for Olivier, who said she didn’t like watching it just a couple of years ago. Last year she played No. 2 singles; this year she is unbeaten at No. 1. 

“I just wanted to be good enough to make the varsity,” she said of her first foray into competitive tennis. To accomplish that she attended some tennis clinics and spent extensive time practicing. 

“I did a lot of hitting with my dad,” she said. “He is my main coach out of season.”

Derek Sandstrom, the Marquette girls coach, said she is becoming more comfortable playing the game. 

“When she is on, it is fun to watch,” he said. “It is a matter of getting her to keep things even. Sometimes she is nonchalant, and sometimes she tries to hit shots she is capable of hitting but the situation doesn’t call for it. 

“She has a real nice all-around game.”

Ground strokes are her strong point, which is why she prefers to lay back and hit from the baseline rather than charging the net in an attacking mode. “I’m not afraid to come up to the net. I try to be ready for anything,” she said.

There are times when the game can be frustrating “because you are playing by yourself. It is you, you and you.” She said the mental and physical aspects can also be frustrating.

Olivier is not expressive on the court, simply chasing after everything and returning shots with solid strokes. “I do talk to myself a little bit,” she said, indicating she does not want to draw attention for any antics or disrupt the other matches. 

“It can be really hard out there by yourself,” she said, showing she will clench her fist after completing a successful volley. “I don’t like to yell. I don’t want to obstruct other people on the court,” she said.

After getting her shutout at Escanaba on a windy, sun-baked afternoon, Olivier said she just tries to focus on the ball and her shot and ignore everything else. “I try not to let the wind affect me,” she said as it blew the hair around on her head.

Her love of the game is obvious as she goes about her business, then when she’s done she merely leaves the court, grabs her cellphone and talks to family and friends while walking around the court as the other matches continue.

“I am passionate about tennis. I love to be out here. I always want to play,” she said.

She has played against her brother Alec, but said “it did not go well for me. He is a lot better than me.” She also plays with her brother Nick, a Marquette freshman netter. “I can still beat him, but I don’t know for how long,” she admitted.

Olivier is hoping to get a chance to play tennis in college, then stay involved in tennis as part of a women’s group or perhaps move into coaching.

She loves the challenge of tennis, whether in matches or just hitting balls. “I am always learning about it. I am always improving. I love that,” she said.

She also enjoys playing a variety of opponents because each one provides a new and many times different challenge and style. Meanwhile she tries to improve her footwork, mobility and shot-making skills while enjoying being a part of a team. 

“I’ve met so many people through tennis,” she said, indicating No. 2 player Mollie Kilpela is her best friend and they hit a lot of balls together. “We are all so different, but we do have that one thing going to tennis. It is nice to have that. 

“I’m pretty simple in my life. Basically, I like tennis. I like it that way.”

Olivier does go beyond tennis, indicating she likes to bike, draw, write about her daily life and sing. She also works at Marquette Pediatrics and thinks she may enter the dentistry field.

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012 and currently is in a second stint as the interim in that position. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at sportsdenesky@gmail.com with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marquette’s Elyse Olivier prepares to return a volley; she’s playing No. 1 singles this fall. (Middle) Olivier, undefeated this season, lines up a backhand. (Photos courtesy of the Marquette athletic department). 

Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.”