Ann Arbor Pioneer junior – Tennis
After a year away, Miller returned to high school tennis this spring and won her second No. 1 singles championship in Lower Peninsula Division 1, capping an undefeated season Saturday at the Greater Midland Tennis Center to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”
Miller also had won No. 1 singles in LPD1 as a freshman before spending last year playing national events. Much was expected from Miller’s return to the high school courts, as she’s ranked 17th nationally in her graduating class by Tennis Recruiting Network and has committed to continue her career after high school at University of Michigan. Miller met all the pressure head on and shined, finishing 29-0 with just two lost sets the entire spring. She entered the LPD1 Finals as the top seed at No. 1 and gave up a combined seven points over her first three matches before falling in the first set of the finale 7-5 to Grosse Pointe South freshman Lily Jones, herself ranked 24th nationally in the Class of 2022. Miller bounced back to win the following two sets 6-0, 6-0. Her flight championship helped Pioneer to a fifth-place team finish with 19 points, an 11-place and 17-point jump from 2018.
Tennis runs in the family; Miller was guided into the sport by her father, and her aunt Annie Miller played professionally and rose to No. 40 in the world in 1998. Annie Miller went on to study at U-M, and Kari is carrying a 4.0 GPA and plans to study business with aspirations of a career in finance or consulting in New York City. Her immediate future, however, includes one more year of high school and another exciting opportunity – her sister Reese will be a freshman and join her on the Pioneer tennis team in 2020.
Ann Arbor Pioneer assistant coach Dan Goldberg said: “Obviously it’s a game-changer when you have the best player in the state come back and play high school tennis for her team. For her, personally, a lot of the tennis she plays at the national level is individual. She loves the girls on the team. She loves being a part of the team. That really was the big decision, along with the fact that she’s already committed to college. Her sophomore year she really needed to go where the competition was.’’
Performance Point: “The state tournament compared to all the tournaments I play isn't the most challenging, but I feel like it's different because there's a lot more pressure involved,” Miller said. “There's big crowds and people cheering. So in some ways I feel like it's actually a harder tournament than a lot of the ones that I'm used to playing. ... The girl I played at the Finals is really, really good, and she's a freshman, and she plays a lot of the same national tournaments as me. She ranks really high for her grade. We're pretty even – I knew that, my parents and coaches knew that, and I'm sure she and her parents and coaches knew.”
All expectations fulfilled: “When I decided to play (high school) again, I don’t think I really thought about it. (But) there was actually more pressure this year than there was last year because everyone knew and lot of people were talking about how I was playing again. I just had to try to not think about what others expected. Obviously I expected a lot from myself, but it made it harder for me when I saw what the expectations were (from) other people. It was mentally tougher this year.”
Aunt Annie knows: “I do sometimes talk to her. I don't really see her that much because she lives in Portland, Oregon. But she Facetimed me after the state tournament, told me congrats, and we talked about it for a little bit, how I was happy that I won and some of the stuff that went on during the tournament. She understands because she's done all I've done, and then more.”
Behind the lens: “My life during the school year is basically homework and school, or on weekends I’ll have a tournament or hang out with my friends a little. When I go on vacation, I usually try to bring my camera. … Recently I've been taking pictures of other people – me and my sister will take pictures of each other or together on vacation, but sometimes I take pictures of nature where I am. I haven't had as much time to do that recently, but mostly during the summers. In seventh grade I saved a bunch of money to buy a camera, so it was definitely worthwhile because it's really nice.”
More to accomplish: “Next year I just want to be able to play on the team with my sister. And I think honestly, the one other thing is next year I think we'll be even better (as a team) than this year. Next year we really need to try to win the state tournament. I think we'll have a good chance. I mean, I want to try to win individually again – winning a third time would be nice – but I already won twice. The one thing I would say I haven't experienced yet is winning as a team.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
and Perry A. Farrell, correspondent
Every week during the 2018-19 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard recognizes 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.
Past 2018-19 honorees
May 23: Keshaun Harris, Lansing Waverly track & field - Read
May 16: Gabbie Sherman, Millington softball - Read
May 9: Nathan Taylor, Muskegon Mona Shores golf - Read
May 2: Ally Gaunt, New Baltimore Anchor Bay soccer - Read
April 25: Kali Heivilin, Three Rivers softball - Read
March 28: Rickea Jackson, Detroit Edison basketball - Read
March 21: Noah Wiswary, Hudsonville Unity Christian basketball - Read
March 14: Cam Peel, Spring Lake swimming - Read
March 7: Jordan Hamdan, Hudson wrestling - Read
February 28: Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling - Read
February 21: Reagan Olli, Gaylord skiing - Read
February 14: Jake Stevenson, Traverse City Bay Reps hockey - Read
February 7: Molly Davis, Midland Dow basketball - Read
January 31: Chris DeRocher, Alpena basketball - Read
January 24: Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29: Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15: Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8: Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1: Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25: Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18: Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4: Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer's Kari Miller lines up a backhand during a first-day match at last weekend's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Greater Midland Tennis Center. (Middle) Miller waits on a volley during her run to the No. 1 singles title. (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.)