HOLLAND – Juliana Pullen made her grandpa proud at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Girls Tennis Division 1 Final.
The Ann Arbor Pioneer senior won her first state championship at No. 3 singles with her grandpa and coach, Tom Pullen, looking on.
Her victory helped the Pioneers win their third-straight team title ahead of runner-up Troy at DeWitt Tennis Center.
Ann Arbor Pioneer finished with 32 points, while Troy had 25.
“I'm glad I was able to live up to the expectations because anything could've happened, so I’m just glad things worked out,” Juliana Pullen said. “There was a lot of pressure, especially with our history as a team and being the coach’s granddaughter. A lot of pressure, but I’m glad I was able to pull through.”
Pullen, the top seed and lone senior on the team, closed her season with a perfect record as she ousted Ann Arbor Skyline’s Maddie Slade in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0.
“That was very satisfying since she is my granddaughter,” Tom Pullen said. “It was nice to see her end her career with a state championship.”
Juliana Pullen, who will play at Kalamazoo College, had an impressive comeback in the semifinals after dropping the first set.
“Everybody at this tournament are great players,” she said. “The girl I played in the semis was a fantastic player, and the same with the finals. Everyone was playing extremely well, and I’m happy to have pulled through and I’m super proud of my team.”
Tom Pullen said a talented and balanced lineup in both singles and doubles helped the Pioneers prevail.
“It takes effort from every member of the team, and this is what made it possible for us,” he said. “We got points from everybody, and Troy had a couple flights where they couldn't get as many points. We had a team that was strong from top to the bottom, and that’s what it takes to win a state championship.”
Pioneers’ top-seeded freshman Sophia Liang joined Pullen as a flight champion with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Clarkston’s Charlotte Partchenko at No. 4 singles.
Liang also finished the season undefeated.
“Being the No. 1 seed you have some pressure, but have to learn to relax and enjoy it,” she said. “At the end of the day it's all about the work and memories that matter the most.
“I just wanted to come out here and play my game and enjoy it. It feels even better to know that the whole team can come together and win, and it’s a nice feeling that we could keep this going.”
Ann Arbor Pioneer also claimed a flight title at No. 4 doubles as junior Noa Gluskin and freshmen Jessica Primus, seeded third, rallied to defeat Novi (4-6, 6-4, 6-1).
“I’m so proud of our No. 4 doubles,” Juliana Pullen said. “One is a freshman and the other one was an alternate for two years, so this was their first year on varsity and they won.”
Troy, which finished third a year ago, dominated in doubles as three flights captured championships.
“They played some very high-level tennis today,” Troy’s assistant coach Susie Moceri said. “We asked, and they delivered.
“Our head coach, Brian Miska, is in the hospital with his wife and he could not be here to watch all the work he has put into this team, but in his absence they really delivered.”
Senior Grace Zhu and junior Nika Tananko captured a straight set (6-2, 6-2) win over Bloomfield Hills at No. 1 doubles, while seniors Varsha Penumalee and Vienna Thieu upset the top-seeded Ann Arbor Pioneer tandem 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 at No. 2 doubles.
Juniors Hannah Lee and Michelle Baik outlasted Ann Arbor Pioneer’s top-seeded team, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to win at No. 3 doubles.
Ann Arbor Skyline’s Sari Woo won at No. 1 singles with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Rochester Adams’ Nicole Fu.
Woo, a junior, did not drop a set en route to her first championship. She was a finalist as a freshman as well.
“I’m pretty excited,” Woo said. “I was a little stressed out during my match, so I feel relieved right now. She played really well, but this means a lot and I’m grateful for everyone who stayed to watch me.”
Fu, a sophomore, upset two-time No. 2 singles champion Elise Van Wieren of Pioneer in the No. 1 semifinals.
Bloomfield Hills’ Raegan Tomina made the most of her final high school tournament and won at No. 2 singles as a third seed. She defeated Rochester Adams’ Katie Fu, 7-5, 6-0.
“It was just an amazing win for me because I’m a senior and this is literally my last competitive match ever,” Tomina said “It just means a lot because I’ve worked so hard.”
Tomina dropped the first set in her semifinal against Jenison’s Marta Gomez, but rallied to win the final two sets and move on.
“I wasn’t even supposed to win my semifinal match, and after that I went into the finals just to have fun,” Tomina said. “I have nothing to lose, and I just played like that and I played with confidence and that’s what I think helped me.”
PHOTOS (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer celebrates its LPD1 team championship Saturday at DeWitt Tennis Center. (Middle) Ann Arbor Skyline’s Sari Woo returns a volley during her No. 1 singles match. (Below) Troy’s Grace Zhu sends back a shot at No. 1 doubles. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)