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.)
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.
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.”