Preview: Familiar Favorites, New Leaders

June 1, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The favorites to win team championships at this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals aren’t too much of a surprise – six of eight teams ranked first or second by the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association at the end of this regular season finished either first or second at one of last year’s four championship tournaments.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for change. 

Traverse City St. Francis in Division 4 is favored to win its first MHSAA title, while Grand Rapids Christian should be in the mix in Division 3 to win for the first time as well. And only one of four No. 1 singles champions from 2015 is back this weekend.

Matches begin Friday, with final rounds Saturday morning, and coverage of all four tournaments will be posted to Second Half by Saturday evening. Below is a brief look at top contenders at each tournament; click for more including brackets and seeds for all 32 flights plus specific sites where each flight will begin play.

LP Division 1 at Midland Tennis Center

Top ranked: No. 1 Midland Dow, No. 2 Northville, No. 3 Grosse Pointe South.

Northville won its first MHSAA championship a year ago finishing five points ahead of Midland Dow, which is favored this time to win its first team title since 2009. Grosse Pointe South finished third last season and was champion in 2014 and 2012.

Midland Dow: The Chargers are seeded at all eight flights with top seeds at Nos. 2 and 3 singles (Caroline Szabo, Sarah Ismail) and No. 1 doubles (Afua Ofori-Darko and Kamryn Matthews). Ofori-Darko and Matthews won No. 1 doubles last season, while Jessica Brown (sixth-seeded at No. 1) and Hadley Camp (third-seeded at No. 4) were runners-up at Nos. 2 and 4 singles, respectively. Kelly Livingston also brings championship match experience – she’s seeded third at No. 2 doubles this weekend with Meghan Killmaster but was part of the runner-up pair at No. 2 a year ago – and Szabo was the No. 2 singles runner-up as a freshman in 2014.

Northville: Three of Northville’s singles players from last season’s title run are back on that side of the line-up this weekend, as are a handful of experienced doubles standouts. Emma Worley returns at No. 1 singles, as does reigning champion Shanoli Kumar at No. 2 and reigning No. 3 champion Joanne Gao; both Kumar and Gao are seeded second in their flights this time. Serena Wang was part of the No. 4 doubles champion a year ago; she’s seeded second with Maya Mulchandani at No. 1. Reeshma Kumar and Molly Bis are the top seed at No. 2 doubles – Kumar was part of the No. 1 runner-up in 2015 and Bis partnered with Wang as the No. 4 winner. Neha Chava and Sophie Zhuang are seeded first at No. 3 doubles (Chava was seeded at No. 4 singles a year ago), and Brittany Macaddino and Alexandria Petix are seeded first at No. 4 doubles.

Grosse Pointe South: Four seeded doubles pairs will be key in South staying in contention; the No. 1 pair is seeded fourth with Hanna Wilhelm and Madie Flournoy, with Flournoy the No. 4 singles champion as a freshman in 2013. No. 1 singles player Raven Neely is seeded second after making the semifinals with that seed a year ago and also as the third seed in 2014.

Bloomfield Hills’ Tia Mukherjee – One of the standout freshmen regardless of division, Mukherjee is seeded third at No. 1 singles and split matches against South’s Neely this season.

Utica Eisenhower’s Ava Thielman – Last season’s runner-up at No. 1 singles, now a junior, enters as the fourth seed after playing as the top seed a season ago.

West Bloomfield’s Anika Tarlagadda – West Bloomfield’s top player is arguably the top freshman in the state and seeded first at No. 1 singles after defeating Mukherjee in their Regional’s championship match.

Another returning 2015 flight champion – Traverse City Central’s Autumn Roberts (No. 4 singles last season, No. 2 singles this season).

LP Division 2 at Holly

Top ranked: No. 1 Bloomfield Hills Marian, No. 2 Birmingham Seaholm, No. 3 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.

Two of the above three teams have won and finished second in every LP Division 2 Final since 2009, and at least one of the three has claimed the title every season since 2002. Finals 2015 saw Seaholm claim the championship by a point over Forest Hills Northern and six over Marian after sharing the title with Forest Hills Northern in 2014.

Bloomfield Hills Marian: All eight flights are seeded, with three top seeds including two at doubles. No. 1 doubles pair McKenna Landis and Regan Patterson have a top seed after Landis won the title last year with now-graduated partner Bianca Emde, and No. 2 doubles pair Melanie Roma and Shannon Flynn also earned the top seed in their flight with Flynn coming off a runner-up finish at No. 3 with graduated Marta Colosimo in 2015. Carolina Cibulas at No. 3 singles earned that other top seed, but a pair of past champions also return to the singles lineup; Breann Lunghamer, seeded second at No. 2, won No. 3 in 2013; and Sophie Balardo, fourth-seeded at No. 4, won that flight in 2014.

Birmingham Seaholm: Two top-seeded doubles pairs and two second-seeded doubles lead the way. Caity Buechner and Meaghan Flynn were the champions at No. 2 last season and are seeded second at No. 1, and Sam Lareau and Emily McDermott are seeded second at No. 2 after winning No. 3 doubles a year ago. Catherine Markley and Ellie Benson at No. 3 and Alex Wineman and Emma Latessa at No. 4 have top seeds, but there’s also a past champion in singles in Lisa Johnston, who’s seeded third at No. 2 after winning No. 3 singles last season.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: The Huskies’ most successful returnees from last season – No. 2 doubles runners-up Felicia Zhang and Maansi Dalmia – are split up this time, with Zhang second-seeded at No. 3 singles and Dalmia teaming with Ellie Katz for the fourth-seeded pair at No. 1 doubles. Freshman Olivia Dicks at No. 1 singles has the team’s lone top seed, but total six flights are seeded to make semifinals.

Mason’s Olivia Hanover: The Bulldogs junior advanced to the semifinals at No. 1 singles last season as the second-seeded player and enters with the second seed again.

Okemos’ Alisa Sabatic: For the first time in three seasons, there will be a new No. 1 singles champion after two-time winner Emily Struble graduated. But holding the top seed this weekend is another Okemos player, sophomore Sabatic.  

LP Division 3 at Holland

Top ranked: No. 1 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, No. 2 Detroit Country Day, No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood is seeking a sixth straight Division 3 title, a streak that would tie for fifth longest among girls tennis teams in MHSAA history. And the Cranes will be plenty motivated after defeating Detroit Country Day in a dual but then finishing runner-up to the Yellowjackets at their Regional. Don’t forget Grand Rapids Christian, which finished runner-up a year ago and has the strongest doubles of this tournament.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: All four singles players plus a doubles team are seeded first or second. Senior Allison Motea is the top seed at No. 1 and won No. 3 singles as a freshman, while Emily Harvey is second-seeded at No. 2 after finishing runner-up at that flight a year ago. Madison Narens is seeded second at No. 3, Emma Sable is the top seed at No. 4, and Sauma Du and Alexandra Bowers are the top seed at No. 3 doubles; Bowers was part of the champion at No. 4 last season and Du was part of the runner-up at No. 3. The No. 2 doubles pair of Amelia Smith and Kate Cao is seeded third and also brings plenty of championship experience, with Smith serving as Bowers’ partner in 2015 and Cao coming off a runner-up finish at No. 4 singles.

Detroit Country Day: The Yellowjackets finished third last season, five points back, despite three singles championships and a runner-up finish at the top flight. That runner-up, Sasha Hartje, is back and seeded second at No. 1, with Monique Karoub the top seed at No. 2, reigning champion Sadina Fadel the top seed at No. 3 and Jenna Lee seeded second at No. 4. More help is expected from doubles with three top-two seeds, led by No. 1 top seed Elle Hartje and Haley Mullins. Mullins was the No. 2 singles runner-up in 2014 and No. 3 runner-up in 2013.

Grand Rapids Christian: The Eagles finished runner-up a year ago, four points back, with three doubles teams finishing first or second, and all eight flights are seeded third or higher this weekend. Doubles could lead again, with Caroline Heule and Olivia DeVos the top seed at No. 2 and Emily Schellenboom and Peyton Russell the top seed at No. 4 – and with Hannah Slenk and McKenzie Moorhead the second seed at No. 1 and Kate Zwiers and Natalie DeBoer the third seed at No. 3 after both pairs won those flights last year.

LP Division 4 at Kalamazoo College

Top ranked: No. 1 Traverse City St. Francis, No. 2 Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, No. 3 Kalamazoo Hackett.

Academy of the Sacred Heart has won three of the last four championships and finished a comfortable seven points ahead of St. Francis last season. But that was the Gladiators’ best finish ever, and they’re riding plenty of momentum after sweeping the flight championships at their Regional.

Traverse City St. Francis: The Gladiators bring in two top seeds and two second seeds plus a reigning champion at No. 1 singles. Amanda Bandrowski may be seeded only third at No. 1 this time but won the title in straight sets a year ago. Bailey Chouinard is the third seed at No. 2 after finishing runner-up at that flight in 2015, and Anne Bandrowski is the top seed at No. 3 after finishing runner-up at No. 4 a year ago. St. Francis didn’t get a doubles pair to the championship round last time, but enter with Bethany Richey and Mary Margaret Sutherland top-seeded at No. 2 and two other pairs carrying second seeds.

Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart: The Gazelles swept doubles last season, and seven players from that group of eight are playing again this weekend in some combination. Kendall Gassman and Sara Gerard are fourth-seeded at No. 1 after winning No. 2 a year ago, while Abby Hildebrand (part of the No. 1 champion in 2015) teams with Gretchen Lemon for the second seed at No. 2. Reigning No. 3 champions Tate Lehman and Kathryn Monahan are back as the top seed at that flight, while Stella Betrus will play for a second straight title at No. 4, this time with Meghan Carroll. Selina Fuchs teamed with Hildebrand last season, but this weekend is the second seed at No. 3 singles, and fourth-seeded Jeannie Nash is the reigning runner-up at No. 1.

Kalamazoo Hackett: Three top-seeded singles players make Hackett dangerous after it scored just a point a year ago. Kate Ketels, who has signed with Gonzaga University, is the top seed at No. 1, while Natalie Moyer is the top seed at No. 2 and Lizzie Stull the top seed at No. 4. Three other flights also have top-four seeds.

Kalamazoo Christian’s Lizzie Bauss: She’s the second seed at No. 1 singles after making the semifinals and then losing to Nash last season as the fourth seed.

Other returning 2015 flight champions: Kalamazoo Christian’s Audrey Bouma (No. 2 singles), Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Julia Friedman (No. 3 singles).

PHOTO: Bloomfield Hills Marian’s McKenna Landis returns a shot during last season’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final on the way to her and partner Bianca Emde’s championship at No. 1 doubles. (Click to see more from

Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

October 21, 2022

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. 

So when coach Kyle Saari says this year’s team stands out among them, that’s actually saying quite a lot.

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.”