KALAMAZOO — For the second year in a row, the top two teams battled for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division I girls tennis championship. But this time, Ann Arbor Pioneer did not have to share the title.
Pioneer, which led by a point after Thursday’s matches through the quarterfinals, held on for the win with 33 points at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium on Friday.
Bloomfield Hills finished second with 32, Troy was third with 22, Midland Dow fourth with 15 and Novi fifth with 14.
In a match of flights, Pioneer swept the singles and Bloomfield Hills swept the doubles.
“To sweep the doubles, I don’t know the last time it’s been done in Division 1 – but it’s an incredible task,” Black Hawks coach Chris Dobson said.
“We came here hoping to win the tournament outright, and it just didn’t happen. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier the way the girls played.”
Top seeds won seven of the eight flights, but Pioneer coach Tom Pullen said the unsung hero of the day was senior Aditi Ganesan.
She and sophomore Ella Vogel lost to Bloomfield Hills seniors Eryn Stern and Grace Bickersteth, 6-3, 6-0, at No. 3 doubles.
“Aditi Ganesan is the story of the tournament for me,” Pullen said.
Ganesan explained: “I just got over being sick and I hadn’t touched a tennis ball in over a week. We were afraid I was going to pass out in the first round (Thursday).”
Pullen said he hoped she would get at least through the first round for the two points, but “she got all the way to the finals.
“If she hadn’t, then we lose. That was really a gutsy performance.”
Vogel said three days before the tournament, she was waiting to see which alternate would be her partner.
“Then two days ago, they said Aditi can play, so I was really happy,” Vogel noted. “She’s done so well, and I’m so proud of her.”
Stern and Bickersteth started the season with different partners but jelled once they were paired.
“I’m good at the baseline and she’s amazing at the net, so that works really well,” Stern said. “We’re seniors, so it’s a great way to go out.”
Bickersteth said after losing in the Finals last year, “It felt good to come out and play my game and prove myself this year. We were undefeated this whole season.”
Pullen said these nail-biting tournaments are not necessarily his favorite.
“This is my 62nd time to the state (boys and girls) so I’ve been through a lot of stress and a lot of exciting situations, and this one was so rewarding,” he said.
“I’m proud of these girls.”
After sweeping the singles flights last year, Pioneer returned with the same top seeds this season, beginning with junior Reese Miller, who defeated freshman Nicole Fu, Rochester Adams, 6-1, 6-1, at No. 1 singles
“My first two matches (Thursday) I was pretty nervous for both of them,” said Miller, who has already committed to play tennis at University of Michigan, where her sister Karina just finished her sophomore season. “I had a lot of expectations for myself, definitely more than last year.”
Rochester Adams did not qualify as a team, but Fu’s teammates showed up in full force to cheer her on.
“They made a bunch of posters, so it was really welcoming and fun,” she said.
Playing in her first MHSAA Tournament, Fu said, “When I first came here, I just hoped I would play well.
“I think high school tennis is nice to have a coach with you and you have a team with you. It’s a lot of fun.”
Pioneer sophomore Elsie Van Wieren defeated senior Laura Leiti, Midland Dow, 6-0, 6-3, to repeat at No. 2 singles.
“Last year was the highlight of the year, being a state champ, so I knew that feeling,” Van Wieren said, adding this year was even sweeter. “Coming out this year, there’s more pressure but it’s such a great atmosphere.”
Leiti, who lost in the semifinals last year, complimented Van Wieren.
“She’s a great player,” Leiti said. “She hits hard. She got all the shots. Her footwork is phenomenal.
This year, “I like to think that keeping my cool helps. I try not to let the fluctuating emotions get to me too much. I tried to keep my feet moving.”
Midland coach Garrett Turner said although Leiti lost, by making it to the finals she earned that one special point that put Midland Dow all by itself in fourth place after tying for fourth last year.
“It’s fun to be able to have someone here through the long haul and have the team stay the whole time to cheer for her and see what it’s like to play in the finals,” Turner said.
“This is a pretty special year because we came in as the eighth-ranked team. We outperformed significantly from where we were slated to be.”
At No. 3 singles, senior Mia Goldstein defeated senior Grace Shaya, from Bloomfield Hills, 6-4, 6-1.
In spite of going just two sets, the match lasted two hours.
“Every game was pretty close,” Goldstein said. “With her game style, she doesn’t miss a lot and she hits the ball with a lot of spin, not a lot of pace, so I had to generate all the power myself. I think I was exerting a lot of energy.”
Shaya said since it was her last competitive match ever, “I said to myself I was just going to play every point like my life depended on it. I wanted to give it every single thing I had.”
A pair of sophomores toughed out a grueling match at No. 4 singles, with Bridgette Kelly defeating Julia Yousif, also of Bloomfield Hills, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.
Kelly’s win clinched the title for Pioneer.
“It’s really great,” Kelly said. “I was pretty confident going into the third set. I knew what I had to do: make balls and play my tennis.”
Yousif said she just kept believing in herself and fought to the end.
“I just tried to pump myself up and keep the energy,” she said. “She was playing better (in the third set) so more credit to her.”
At No. 1 doubles, Bloomfield Hills senior Danielle Herb said losing was not an option for her and fellow senior Carly Bernard.
The pair defeated Troy juniors Stephanie Ochoa and Grace Zhu, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2, in the last match on court.
Their key to winning is “our communication,” Herb said. “I was a singles player (last year) going on to dubs. It was a big transition. We stayed positive and we fought.”
The exuberant Bernard added, “We turned it on at the right time. My feet feel better now.
”We just love each other. And I’m crazy in the head and she knows how to calm me down.”
Black Hawks senior Noa Goldstein and junior Natalie Raab had won doubles championships last season with different partners. They prevailed this time together at No. 2 over Troy senior Sophie Chong and sophomore Nika Tanako, 6-1, 6-2.
“Winning twice in a row is pretty awesome,” Goldstein said. “It’s really great winning as a senior. I really wanted this this year.”
Raab said her specialty is at the net.
“I love playing net,” she said. “I love to crush the ball. I’m the person who likes to attack people — not personally,” she quickly added, laughing.
“Noa has an amazing ground-stroke game, and her serves set me up, We always have fun and have good energy.”
No. 4 doubles featured the only mini-upset of the tournament with second seeds Colleen Pettengill, a junior, and senior Ellie Alberts defeating Troy’s top seeds, junior Vienna Thieu and sophomore Michelle Baik, 6-0, 7-5.
For Pettengill, celebrating her first individual title, “It was definitely overwhelming, but it’s so nice to be here with the rest of the team.”
Alberts said the partnership works well.
“She’s the ground-stroker, and I’m the volleyer,” she said. “She always hits her targets, and I hit mine. It just works perfectly.
“We’re so pumped up the whole time. Last year, I lost in finals. And this is my senior year, so it’s huge for me.”
PHOTOS (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Bridgette Kelly sends back a shot at No. 3 singles Friday at Kalamazoo College. (Middle) Bloomfield Hills' Colleen Pettengill returns a volley during a No. 4 doubles match. (Below) Troy's Sophie Chong keeps a volley going during her No. 2 doubles match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.”