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.)

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.”