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 HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ISHPEMING — There was both a single reason and a singles reason why Iron Mountain won the championship at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Tennis Finals played at Westwood High School on Thursday.
The difference is subtle — just a single letter “s” — but rings true both ways.
It was easy to see what the Mountaineers’ secret was — sweep the titles at every singles flight while adding one more in doubles just to be on the safe side.
IM finished with 19 points, while Ishpeming outdueled West Iron County in several late finals to eke out second place by one point, 14 to 13.
Gwinn posted five points to take fourth, while Munising had four, Norway one and Ironwood did not score.
Mountaineers coach Marcus Celello credited senior leadership for the team’s repeat championship.
“We have eight seniors on our team, including all four of our regular singles players and both our No. 1 doubles players, along with one each on Nos. 3 and 4 doubles,” the IM coach said.
He noted that all those singles flights were winners with the team’s championship in doubles also coming with the pair of seniors at No. 1.
“We won this last year and returned our core, so I knew we would at least be very competitive this year,” Celello said. “We won or tied every dual meet this season.”
He said that included a 4-4 tie against eventual U.P. Division 1 champion Negaunee to give the Miners the only blemish on their dual-meet record this fall.
“But sometimes when you haven’t faced adversity, it can be scary,” the coach continued. “You don’t always know how you’re going to react.”
No. 2 singles player Aziza Burgoon — of course, a senior — completed an undefeated season by winning a marathon final over WIC’s Seanna Stine, 7-5, 7-5.
IM also got singles titles from No. 3 Natalia Brown and No. 4 Rediet Husing, along with a doubles championship from No. 1 Elle Lofholm and Anja Kleiman.
But the biggest cheers and shrieks came after IM finished its singles sweep when No. 1 Callie Bianco pulled off a 6-4, 6-4 win over Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel.
Schiefel led 4-2 in the second set looking to force a deciding third before Bianco won the final four games.
“I just was trying to stay focused, work the ball and follow through,” Bianco said. “And maybe the most important thing was to be patient, not panic.
“I’m known for being an impatient player. When I’m on, I like to be aggressive, but I know that when I’m not on, I have to focus on being patient.”
Asked if she was “on” Thursday, she was emphatic with her “Yes I was!”
One coach trying to be patient but excited for next season is Ishpeming’s Kaitlin Rich, who watched her junior-laden team set the groundwork for a big season next fall.
“We’ve already made a big improvement from last year,” she said. “I’m proud of how hard our girls have worked to make that improvement.
“Half of our players are dual-sport athletes, which means they’re playing another sport this fall, too, so they really have to balance their workload.”
The Hematites carted off one championship, one of the last finishing finals matches at No. 3 doubles when Kaitlyn VanDeuren and Paige Palomaki had to win a third-set tiebreaker to defeat WIC’s Bailey Hoffart and Aubrey Richardson 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1).
That result decided the runner-up position team-wise as a Wykons’ win would’ve reversed their point totals and places in the standings.
“We had five finalists, at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 1, 2 and 3 doubles,” Rich said. “We return nine of our juniors next year, so I’m really looking forward to next year. I think we should be ready to make a run at the U.P.’s (title) next year.
“Kaitlyn and Paige, those two by far are the most improved players from last year,” the Ishpeming coach added.
WIC veteran coach Joe Serbentas was philosophical after his players won a pair of doubles titles, at No. 2 with sisters Autumn Smith and Kaitlyn Smith and at No. 4 with Destiny Lemery and Olivia Lamay.
“We’ve played well at the U.P.’s the last five or six years, but we also seemed to come up that point short,” he said. “Iron Mountain is so senior-loaded, you just knew that they were the big favorites today.
“We had a 5-7-1 record in dual meets, but we play a lot of the best teams in the U.P., so I still think that’s pretty good.”
Gwinn made a run at a U.P. flight championship for the first time in a number of years with Schiefel at No. 1 singles, much to her coach’s delight.
“She has such a passion for the sport, and she’s such an avid athlete,” Modeltowners coach Darcia Mattson said. “She runs track and is a phenomenal basketball player. She trains at AdvantEdge (athletic training facility in Marquette).
“She used to play tennis against her brother, Jared Rolland.
“And she’s not a big girl at all, but her heart is twice as big as she is.”
PHOTOS (Top) The Iron Mountain and Ishpeming No. 2 doubles pairs face off during a semifinal. (Middle) Anja Kleiman gets a racket on the ball during her and partner Elle Lofholm’s match at No. 1 doubles. (Below) Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel returns a volley at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Steve Brownlee.)