Pioneer Emerges as LPD1 Winner by Single Point as 2021 Co-Champs Match Up Again

By Pam Shebest
Special for

June 3, 2022

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.

Bloomfield Hills tennis“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.

Troy tennisKelly’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.”

Click for full results.

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.)

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.)