Performance: Munising's Marissa Ackerman

October 6, 2017

Marissa Ackerman
Munising senior – Tennis

Ackerman capped her second straight undefeated season with the Upper Peninsula Division 2 championship at No. 1 singles. She defeated every No. 1 singles player in the Upper Peninsula this season and lost only one set, in her semifinal, during the Sept. 27 Finals to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

A five-sport athlete, Ackerman also plays libero for the volleyball team during the fall, basketball and then softball and runs track in the spring. She was 13-0 on the tennis court this season, following a 13-0 junior year as a No. 2 singles champion and a 10-1 sophomore campaign where her only loss came in the U.P. Finals also at No. 2. She finished her four-year varsity career 42-7 playing no lower than No. 2, and did so while Munising played all of its matches on the road as it doesn’t have home courts. Her school, in Class D with just more than 200 students, plays tennis in the Great Northern Conference with the U.P.’s biggest schools, and she won the No. 1 singles league title as well. The Mustangs won two U.P. Finals team titles during her career, in 2015 and shared with Ishpeming Westwood in 2016.

Ackerman was followed in the singles lineup by twin sister Kelsea, and they’ve pushed each other to be better both in sports and in the classroom – the pair both have grade-point averages near 3.9. Marissa has an opportunity to play basketball at the college level but isn’t sure if she wants to continue in that sport or tennis. She’s also unsure what she’ll study after high school, although the medical field appears to be calling: her sister wants to be a nurse, her brother is studying physical therapy, her mom is a dietician at the local hospital and her dad is a nurse and director of the intensive care unit at the hospital in Marquette. Ackerman is interning at the hospital currently and considering becoming a physical therapist or athletic trainer.

Coach Rod Gendron said: “Marissa is one of the most competitive players I have coached. She plays to win and is all business on the court. Marissa knows when to play offensively, but understands how to use her extraordinary defense skills. To win a point against Marissa, you will need to hit several great shots, but that ball will keep coming back over and over. She literally wears opponents out mentally and physically. I admire how she can take a player’s strength away during a match. She forces players to over-hit, because they think they have to hit better and harder shots to win each point, which plays into her strategy. Marissa is athletic and agile on the court. She is a dual-sport athlete in the fall playing volleyball too. Plus, she starts on the basketball team, and runs track and plays softball in the spring.”  

Performance Point: “During the finals, I knew it was going to be a hard match because last year the number one girl that played for us (Frankie Mattson) beat the girl I played (Iron River West Iron County’s Katarina Serbentas) for the finals, and she was pretty good so I was nervous about that,” Ackerman said. “I had a bye the first round and I had to get over playing against Ishpeming (in the semifinal), and I started off really slow and really nervous. Me losing that (second) set and going into a third set, it really showed me you have to work to get what you need to get done and that anybody can beat you if you’re having an off day. After I beat (Ishpeming) I was telling myself, ‘You need to step up your game and really get focused.’”

5-sport scholar: “You really have to be on your game whether it’s sports or school. On the buses a lot of us would be studying with each other or helping each other with homework. Definitely, homework is first and sports are second. We’d always have school and then practice, and then usually after practice my sister and me go home and study. We have a really busy day, but I really don’t like not doing anything, sitting around, and it keeps me active and always having something to do.”

Sisterly assistance: “We get really competitive. I’m really defensive (in tennis) and she is very offensive, so she has a lot of winner shots on me. But there’s a lot of shots where she thinks she has a winner and somehow I get it back. She’s a great challenge to play with. We started tennis with my grandma (Munising assistant Claudia VanLandschoot) when we were at least 3 or 5, and it just stuck. Having somebody always there with you – and we always want to get better at whatever we’re doing whether it’s basketball, tennis, any sport that we play – we always compete to get better. And by pushing each other, we know we’re going to get better.”

Net gains: “I definitely see myself as very confident in volleyball and tennis, more so in tennis because it’s an individual sport. But for volleyball I play back row libero, so I have a huge part in our team and how we execute our plays. One bad pass could lead to not setting up our executions right. That same focus I have during tennis is always with me during volleyball, during matches.”

Good and bad of good-bye: “It’s really heart-breaking to see all the years of tennis just go by. It’s crazy how fast the whole season goes, and I’m really happy about the outcome and my team. But (having only volleyball left this fall) makes it easier on my body. I was super tired and exhausted and sore, and now I’m just sore in my legs from volleyball. … I’m happy I have more recovery time in my body, but at the same time I’m super sad tennis is over.”

Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Munising's Marissa Ackerman returns a volley during a match against Gwinn this season. (Middle) Ackerman connects during her run to the No. 1 singles title at the Great Northern Conference tournament. (Photos by the Marquette Mining Journal.)

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.)