Preview: Favorites Ready for Return After Year Delay

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 2, 2021

Lower Peninsula girls tennis was among sports forced to miss the entire 2020 season due to COVID-19.

But many of the state’s powers picked right back up this spring where they left off two years ago, including two reigning Finals team champions entering this weekend as favorites again and five No. 1 singles players who have either won that flight or finished runner-up during their careers.

This weekend’s Finals schedule does feature a few changes.

For starters, while Divisions 1-3 will continue with the traditional format playing Friday and Saturday, Division 4 will be played Thursday and Friday in the Kalamazoo area.

All four divisions also will be played over multiple locations. Division 1 will be played at Mason and Okemos high schools, with the finals at Mason. Division 2 will be played at Midland Dow and Midland Tennis Center, with finals at the latter. Division 3 will be played at Holland Christian High and Harbor Lights Middle School, with finals at Holland Christian. And Division 4 will see matches at Portage Central, Portage Northern, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix and West Middle School before finishing up with championship matches at Central.

Below is a glance at the highest-ranked teams in each division and additional No. 1 singles players expected to be in contention. Click for full brackets and more on the MHSAA Website.

LP Division 1 at Mason & Okemos

Top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Bloomfield Hills, 3. Birmingham Seaholm.

Ann Arbor Pioneer: The Pioneers are seeking their first championship since 2010 and first top-two Finals finish since 2011, and that effort will start with the top-seeded players in every singles flight – sophomore Reese Miller at No. 1, followed by freshman Elsie Van Wieren, junior Mia Goldstein and freshman Bridgette Kelly, respectively. Three of four doubles flights are seeded as well. Pioneer is 21-0-1 this spring, with its tie against No. 2 Bloomfield Hills on April 26. Miller – whose sister Kari won Division 1 No. 1 singles championships both seasons she played high school tennis – is 25-2 with her only defeats both to Detroit Country Day’s Julia Fliegner, who won No. 1 singles in Division 3 in 2018. Van Wieren is 27-0, Goldstein is 26-1 and Kelly is 23-0.

Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks are seeking their first championship and came up just short at the 2019 Final, finishing runner-up and two points back of winner Grosse Pointe South. They also are unbeaten at 17-0-2, with those ties against Pioneer and No. 3 Seaholm (which they had defeated two weeks earlier). Doubles will be Bloomfield Hills’ strength; No. 2 (Reagen Tomina/Carly Bernard), No. 3 (Eryn Stern/Natalie Raab) and No. 4 (Grace Bickersteth/Ellie Alberts) are top-seeded, with No. 1 Hannah Tomina and Noa Goldstein second-seeded and Hannah Tomina having been part of the No. 1 champion in 2019. The Black Hawks also have three seeded singles players, and could have an edge with No. 4 Julia Yousif entering as a second seed.

Birmingham Seaholm: The Maples have been among the Division 2 elite over the last two decades, with four championships (most recent 2018) and five runner-up finishes (most recent 2019) over the last 15 seasons. Seaholm did lose duals to Pioneer and Bloomfield Hills this spring, but are lined up to make a run at the top with six seeded flights including a pair of third seeds (Sofia Gryzenia at No. 2 singles and Courtney Marcum at No. 4). Ashley Buechner is part of the fifth seed at No. 1 doubles and was part of the champ at No. 4 two years ago.

Zoe Angell, Midland Dow: The Chargers senior is the second seed at No. 1 singles and undefeated this season at 23-0. She reached the No. 1 quarterfinals as an unseeded sophomore in 2019.

Alicen Liu, Novi: The Wildcats standout is 19-3 and seeded third at No. 1 singles, with losses to Miller and Angell along the way but the latter in three sets.

Olivia Weiss, Royal Oak: The fourth-seeded No. 1 singles player as a senior, Weiss is 21-0 with 18 wins by 6-0, 6-0 scores. She was the runner-up at No. 1 in Division 2 in 2018. 

LP Division 2 at Midland Area

Top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2. Bloomfield Hills Marian, 3. East Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: The Huskies have won 10 championships and finished runner-up six times over the last 19 seasons, and are the reigning champs after edging Seaholm by two points in 2019. All eight flights this time are seeded third or higher, and six flights carry top seeds. Abby Siminski (1), Isabella Paul (2), Alexis Pena (3) and Nathalie Lanne (4) all fill the top lines of the bracket in singles, with Sophie Richards and Rhea Marwaha the top-seeded pair at No. 1 doubles and Mitra Bijoy and Ryan Morey top-seeded at No. 2. Siminski was the runner-up at No. 1 in 2019 while Paul was the champ at No. 3 and Pena the winner at No. 4. Siminski is 16-0, Paul and Pena both 24-0 and Lanne 25-0 this season.

Bloomfield Hills Marian: The Mustangs finished third and only five points off the lead in 2019, and they’re seeking their fourth title over the last 11 seasons and first since 2016. All eight flights are seeded this weekend, with big points expected in doubles. Marcella Zarouk and Meghan Sharkey are the top seed at No. 4, with Jackie Ambrose and Emily Anton the second seed at No. 3 and Gabi Saba and Keely Nykerk the second seed at No. 2.  

East Grand Rapids: Most recently the champion in 2017, EGR is another frequent contender coming back from a fourth-place finish in 2019. Five flights are seeded, with No. 2 doubles pair Jennifer and Julia Ernst set up to advance the farthest among the group.

Sullivan Patel, Birmingham Groves: The third seed at No. 1 singles is 21-2 with those defeats to Siminski and a Division 1 contender. She was the sixth seed at No. 1 as a sophomore in 2019 and reached the quarterfinals before losing to Siminski in three sets.

Helaina Pietrowsky, Grosse Pointe North: The Norsemen sophomore is the fourth seed at No. 1 singles for her first Finals, and carries a 16-4 record with all four defeats against players in the Division 1 bracket this weekend.

Romika Shokohi, Mattawan: After finishing runner-up at No. 3 singles as a freshman, Shokohi will wrap up her junior season entering the weekend as the second seed at No. 1 and with a 24-2 record. Her most recent loss was to Siminski.

LP Division 3 at Holland Area

Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Detroit Country Day, 3. Chelsea.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: The Cranes are favored to take the next step after finishing runner-up to Country Day in 2018 and 2019. Cranbrook enters the weekend with six top seeds and a second – and the lone unseeded player, junior Nina Govila, returns to No. 1 singles after finishing runner-up at that flight in 2019. Junior Charlotte Brown – the No. 4 singles champ two years ago – is the top seed at No. 2, followed by freshmen Sienna Ilitch on the top line at No. 3 and Olivia Zhang as the favorite at No. 4. Morgan Dresner-Hagman and Mia Frickey are top-seeded at No. 1 doubles, with Abby Foltyn and Gaby Levine tops at No. 2 and Daryn Krause and Kayli Lala on the top line at No. 3. Brown and Ilitch both have only one loss this season, both to Division 1 contenders.

Detroit Country Day: The Yellowjackets have won four straight Division 3 championships and enter the weekend seeded at all four singles flights and three doubles flights. Senior Julia Fliegner was the No. 1 singles champ as a freshman in 2018; she’s undefeated this spring and the top seed at her flight. Junior Lana Haddad is the third seed at No. 2 singles and was part of the No. 2 doubles championship pair in 2019.

Chelsea: The Bulldogs are seeking their first top-two finish and could make a big move after tying for eighth two years ago. Top-seeded Megan Boughton and Meghan Bareis at No. 4 doubles highlight six seeded flights overall, also including second seeds Mia Loveland and Adrienne Delong at No. 1 doubles and Anne-Marie Begola at No. 4 singles.

Aly Aldrich, Otsego: The freshman fourth seed at No. 1 singles is 20-2 with both losses to Allegan’s Regan Fales (see below) before she won their most recent match.

Regan Fales, Allegan: The Tigers junior is the third seed at No. 1 singles, and made the semifinals at No. 1 as a freshman when she also was the third seed.  

Julie Gurne, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep: The Fighting Irish freshman is the second seed at No. 1 singles, with all of her losses either to Fliegner or contenders in Divisions 1 or 2.

LP Division 4 at Kalamazoo/Portage Areas

Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, 2. Traverse City St. Francis, 3. North Muskegon.

Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart: The Gazelles jumped from No. 4 to the top spot in the final coaches poll as they pursue a third-straight championship and fifth in six seasons. They are seeded at all eight flights with the top seeds at the first three doubles flights led by Marisa Nafso and Kayla Nafso at No. 1, Lulu George and Maggie Pulte at No. 2 and Noor Simon and Angelina Kakos at No. 3. Marisa Nafso was part of the No. 2 champion in 2019. Reagan Beatty is the third seed at No. 1 singles having previously won titles at No. 3 as a freshman and No. 1 doubles as a sophomore. Junior Isabelle Burg should provide another boost as the second seed at No. 2 singles.

Traverse City St. Francis: The Gladiators have finished runners-up three of the last five seasons and were sixth in 2019. A strong singles lineup leads six seeded flights. Alexi Lewis at No. 2 and Jillian Sodini at No. 3 are top-seeded, while Mary Chittle at No. 4 and Lilly Bobrowski at No. 1 are second seeds. Lewis and Sodini are undefeated this spring.

North Muskegon: The Norse have seven times been Finals runners-up and like St. Francis are seeking a first championship. Six flights are seeded, led by a pair of second-seeded doubles pairs: Marilyn Gaston and Greta Goszkowicz at No. 4 and Gabby Gaston and Sarah Muzzy at No. 1. Senior Alicia Hall is 22-3 and seeded fourth at No. 1 singles.

Ines Latorre, Elk Rapids: The sophomore standout is the sixth seed at No. 1 singles but with her only losses (three) all to Bobrowski.

Moorea McNalley, Clarkston Everest Collegiate: The Mountaineers’ junior is 28-0 and the top seed at No. 1 singles after also winning the flight as a freshman in 2019.

Igne Savickas, Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard: Four of her six losses this spring as a senior have come to McNalley, Beatty or Notre Dame Prep’s Gurne, part of a resume that earned her the fifth seed at No. 1.

PHOTO: Clarkston Everest Collegiate’s Moorea McNalley returns a volley during her No. 1 singles championship run in 2019. (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.)