Preview: Lineup Packed with Powers

May 30, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A number of familiar faces will return to the Lower Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals this weekend – and the frequent contenders are expected to battle again in three of four divisions.

But a pair of hopefuls are looking to join the powers with their first MHSAA title in this sport.

Jackson Lumen Christi and Traverse City St. Francis are among the top-three ranked teams in Division 4, and both are seeking a first Finals championship – although annual power Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart remains in the mix as well.

In Division 1, meanwhile, 2017 co-champs Midland Dow and Northville are expected to decide the title, while a traditional crew of powers holds many of the top seeds in Division 2. Detroit Country Day is the likely team to beat again in Division 3.

Following are all four sites and start times for both Friday and Saturday’s rounds:

  • Division 1 – Greater Midland Tennis Center (8:30 a.m. 6/1, 9 a.m. 6/2)
  • Division 2 – Kalamazoo College (8 a.m. 6/1, 9 a.m. 6/2)
  • Division 3 – Hope College/Holland Christian HS (Singles at Hope 8 a.m./Doubles at Holland Christian 8:30 a.m. 6/1, all finals at Hope 8 a.m. 6/2)
  • Division 4 – Novi (8 a.m. both days)

Below is a brief look at top contenders at each tournament; click for more including brackets and seeds for all 32 flights across the four divisions.

LP Division 1 at Midland Tennis Center

Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. Northville, 3. Bloomfield Hills.

These three made up the contenders in a little different order a year ago as well, and Dow and Northville shared the championship in 2017 after taking turns finishing first and second the previous two seasons. Both have nearly their entire lineups back, and Dow edged Northville by two points to win the Holly Invitational at the beginning of this month.

Midland Dow: The Chargers have top-three seeds at seven of eight flights, with Sarah Ismail on the top line at No. 3 singles and Amelie Kraef and Reema Patel the favorite at No. 4 doubles. Ismail won No. 2 singles in 2017 and No. 3 in 2016, and Patel was part of the championship-winning pair at No. 4 doubles last season. Hadley Camp and Tatum Matthews were runners-up in 2017; Camp was second at No. 3 singles and this weekend is the second seed at No. 4, while Matthews was runner-up at No. 2 doubles and is now part of the top seed at No. 1 with Kelly Livingston, part of the 2016 champ at No. 2. Unseeded No. 1 singles player Jessica Brown was runner-up at No. 2 as a freshman in 2015 and has made the No. 1 quarterfinals the last two seasons.

Northville: The Mustangs are seeded at every flight, with three top seeds and two flights in the second spot. Shanoli Kumar is top-seeded at No. 1 singles after making the quarterfinals in 2017 and winning and finishing second at No. 2 in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Serena Wang and Sophie Zhuang are seeded first at No. 1 doubles for the second straight year after making the semifinals last season, and Neha Chava and Andrea Nam are top-seeded at No. 2 doubles after Chava won that flight last spring and Nam was part of the runner-up at No. 3. Renee Torres and Tori Mady are the reigning champions at Nos. 3 and 4 singles, respectively; Mady is seeded second at No. 2 singles and Torres is the fourth seed at No. 3 this weekend.

Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks finished third last season, only three points back of the co-champs and 10 ahead of the rest of the field. Junior Tia Mukherjee is second-seeded at No. 1 singles and hoping to play for the title again after finishing runner-up at that flight a year ago. Jenna Silverman at No. 4 singles and Ellen Burke and Lauren Walkon at No. 3 doubles also earned top seeds, and Kaela Bernard at No. 2 doubles was part of the runner-up at No. 4 last year.

Ann Arbor Huron’s Angie Zhou: The freshman No. 1 singles player has enjoyed a big high school debut and is seeded third at the top flight.

Plymouth’s Jessica Braun: She’s seeded fourth at No. 1 singles after making the quarterfinals as the fifth seed the last two seasons.

Grosse Pointe South’s Laurel Sullivan: She’s seeded fifth at No. 1 singles after finishing runner-up to Ismail at No. 2 in 2017.

LP Division 2 at Kalamazoo College

Top-ranked: 1. Birmingham Seaholm, 2. East Grand Rapids, 3. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.

Similar to Division 1, these were the top three ranked teams at this point in 2017 as well but in a different order. East Grand Rapids won last year’s championship, three points ahead of Forest Hills Northern, but Seaholm is the favorite to take back the title for what would be the first time since 2015 but fourth time this decade. Forest Hills Northern shared the championship with the Maples in 2014 and also finished runner-up in 2012 and 2015.

Birmingham Seaholm: The Maples have four top seeds and three second seeds after winning seven flights to claim the Regional title two weeks ago ahead of No. 4 Bloomfield Hills Marian, which beat Seaholm by a point at the Regional last year and then finished a point ahead of Seaholm at the Final. The Maples are expected to dominate doubles – Brooke Forte and Lilly Trinch at No. 2, Jessica Buechner and Lea Cazaudumec at No. 3 and Charlie Kutchman and Sofia Manzo at No. 4 are all top-seeded, while Layla Bellissimo and Emily Hirsch are the second seed at No. 1. Forte and Trinch were the No. 3 runners-up in 2017. Mollie Judge at No. 3 singles carries a top seed as well and made the quarterfinals at No. 2 a year ago.

East Grand Rapids: All eight flights are seeded, led by reigning No. 1 singles champion Sloane Teske holding down the top line in that flight. Hannah Stuursma is the reigning champion at No. 2 singles and seeded third in her return, while Halley Elliott is seeded second at No. 3 after making the semifinals at No. 4 last spring. Audrey Devries and Kate Mackeigan are the reigning champions at No. 4 doubles and seeded this time fifth at No. 2, and Alivia Vincelj is part of the third seed at No. 1 after finishing as part of last season’s runner-up at No. 2.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: The Huskies are seeded in seven flights coming off last season’s runner-up run. Claire Tatman and Sydney McLean both were flight champions last season – Tatman at No. 1 doubles and McLean at No. 3 – and they’re teaming up for the fourth-seeded pairing at No. 1. Abby Zhang was part of last season’s No. 2 doubles champion and is partnering with Lilla Henkel for the third-seeded pair at that flight.

Royal Oak’s Olivia Weiss: Another standout freshman, she’s holding down the second seed at No. 1 singles.

Holly’s Taylor Barrett: The third seed at No. 1 singles made the semifinals last season as the fourth seed.

St. Joseph’s Ashley Ke: The fourth-seeded player at No. 1 came back after dropping the first set to win her Regional against Mattawan’s Kate Novak.

Mattawan’s Kate Novak: Last year’s sixth seed at No. 1 is up to the fifth seed at this Final; a year ago she upset Ke on the way to making the flight semifinals.

Bloomfield Hills Marian’s Madison Dering and Gigi Kalabat: Dering made the quarterfinals at No. 1 doubles last year with Kate Currier; Dering this time is part of the top-seeded pair with reigning No. 4 singles runner-up Kalabat, while Currier is part of the second-seeded pair at No. 2.

LP Division 3 at Hope College

The ranked: 1. Detroit Country Day, 2. Ada Forest Hills Eastern, 3. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.

Detroit Country Day repeated last season as champion with a near-perfect 39 points, as Grand Rapids Christian finished second for the third straight season. Forest Hills Eastern finished ahead of Christian two weeks ago at their Regional to enter this weekend as the top contender from the west side of the state, and Cranbrook Kingswood always is in the mix with its five straight titles to start this decade hardly a distant memory.

Detroit Country Day: Freshman Julie Fliegner is the top seed at No. 1 singles, an even more substantial accomplishment as teammate Monique Karoub is the top seed at No. 2 – after winning the championship at No. 1 a year ago. Elle Hartje is the top seed at No. 3 after winning No. 1 doubles championships the last two seasons, and Alexis Nardicchio is the top seed at No. 4 after winning that flight in 2017. All four doubles pairs are seeded as well, with Maya Nassif and Ruhi Nayak a top seed at No. 3 after Nassif won the title at No. 4 and Nayak was part of the runner-up at 3 last spring. Heather Zimmerman and Tara Rahmani won the No. 2 doubles title last year, and this weekend Zimmerman enters as part of the second seed at No. 1 and Rahmani as part of the fourth seed at No. 2.

Ada Forest Hills Eastern: The Hawks are shooting for their first top-two Finals finish and came in fourth last season. All eight flights this weekend have seeds of fifth or higher, with Avneet Deol the team’s highest as a second seed at No. 4 singles after she made the semifinals at No. 3 a year ago.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: The Cranes came in third a year ago and may make their run this time on the strength of powerful doubles. Kate Cao and Amelia Smith are the top seed at No. 1 after finishing runner-up a year ago, while Sophia Moustakas and Abby Foltyn are the top seed at No. 2 and Simrin Nagaraju and Mia Inakage have the top line of the bracket at No. 4.

Paw Paw’s Lorena Castellanos: Coming off a Regional title, she’s earned the second seed at No. 1 singles.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Claire Danko: Enters this weekend as the third seed at No. 1 singles after beating fifth-seeded Leah Palladino of Forest Hills Eastern in the Regional title match.

Flint Powers Catholic’s Alise Haddad: The fourth seed at No. 1 singles made the semifinals last year as the sixth seed in the top flight. 

LP Division 4 at Novi

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

After finishing runner-up and five points behind champion Ann Arbor Greenhills in 2017, Lumen Christi is favored to win its first MHSAA Finals championship in this spring. But Academy of the Sacred Heart of course can’t be counted out; the Gazelles were third last season and won four titles in five years from 2012-16. St. Francis was the runner-up for the last of those two Sacred Heart titles, in 2015 and 2016, and also is pursuing its first MHSAA title in this sport.

Jackson Lumen Christi: Seven flights are seeded, six as fourth seeds are higher. Singles are loaded. Taylor Smith at No. 1 singles and Sela Clifford at No. 2 are second seeds at their respective flights, and Smith is the reigning No. 1 singles champion after entering as a second seed last year as well and beating Kalamazoo Hackett’s Natalie Moyer, who is the top seed this weekend. Clifford, who made the No. 2 semifinals last spring, also brings championship experience after winning a No. 1 doubles title in 2016. Nina Dunigan made the semifinals at No. 3 last year and is seeded third at that flight, and Shae Wright is the reigning No. 4 runner-up and is seeded fifth in her return to that bracket. Geraldine Berkemeier and Madison King are unseeded at No. 1 doubles, but Berkemeier was half of the championship pair at that flight last season when King was part of a semifinalist at No. 2.

Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart: Six flights are seeded, and the Gazelles again are expected to surge with powerful doubles. Following in that Sacred Heart tradition are top seeds Sara Gerard and Annie Keating at No. 1, Kathryn Monahan and Serena Seneker and No. 3, and Hannah Kakos and Kate Myers at No. 4, with Nolwenn Crosnier and Kelleigh Keating second seeded at No. 2. Gerard and Keating were the runners-up last season at No. 1 and Monahan was part of the runner-up pair at No. 2 as well as a two-time champion at No. 3 doubles as a freshman and sophomore.

Traverse City St. Francis: The Gladiators are back in the hunt after a 16th-place finish in 2017. Every flight is seeded, with Paige Davies on the top line at No. 4 singles and Maddie Muzljakovich and Mary Mawby the second seed at No. 3 doubles. Anne Bandrowski, the runner-up at No. 4 singles in 2015 and No. 3 in 2016, will play her final high school event as the sixth seed at No. 1.

Kalamazoo Hackett’s Maggie Ketels: The top seed at No. 2 singles is seeking her second straight championship at that flight.

Kalamazoo Hackett’s Natalie Moyer: The top seed at No. 1 singles was the runner-up last year and won No. 2 in 2016.

Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Vidhya Rajaprabhakaran: Last season’s champion at No. 3 singles will play in the top flight this weekend.

Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Giselle Farjo and Jamie Todd: The second seed at No. 1 doubles includes Farjo from last year’s No. 2 champion and Todd from the No. 3 title winner.

Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Genna Goist and Ryan Perry: The top seeded-pair at No. 2 doubles includes Perry, who won No. 3 with Todd in 2017.

PHOTO: Midland Dow's Sarah Ismail returns a volley during last season's LP Division 1 Finals. (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.”