By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Saturday’s girls tennis forecast calls for traditional powers to dominate another Lower Peninsula Finals.
But keep an eye out for at least a pair of hopefuls aiming for their first championships in this sport.
Bloomfield Hills in Division 1 and Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in Division 4 are among contenders with the best chances of joining the list of teams that have earned titles over nearly a half century.
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. 5/31, 9 a.m. 6/1)
- Division 2 – Hope College/Holland Christian HS (5/31 Singles at Hope at 8 a.m., doubles at Holland Christian at 8:30; 6/1 all finals at Hope at 8 a.m.)
- Division 3 – Novi High School (5/31 Novi HS 8 a.m., Novi MS 8:30 a.m.; 6/1 Novi HS 8 a.m.)
- Division 4 – Kalamazoo College (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 Greater Midland Tennis Center
Top-ranked: 1. Grosse Pointe South, 2. Bloomfield Hills, 3. Northville.
After sharing with Midland Dow in 2017, Northville won the title alone last spring to make it three championships over four seasons. This week, the Mustangs jumped up two spots in the final rankings to join the two contenders who have been at the top since the last week in April. Grosse Pointe South is seeking its first title since 2014 and third this decade, while Bloomfield Hills is seeking its first ever. They finished fourth and third, respectively, in 2018.
Grosse Pointe South: All eight Blue Devils flights are seeded at least fourth, with No. 4 singles Moira Hix and No. 1 doubles Kate Beardslee and Maddie Hurley top-seeded. Laurel Sullivan, second-seeded at No. 2, was the No. 2 runner-up in 2017 and made the quarterfinals at No. 1 a year ago. Beardslee advanced to the No. 4 singles semifinals last season. Grosse Pointe South won all eight flights at its Regional, which also included No. 6 Troy.
Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks fell just four points shy of that first championship last season and return two individual champions, No. 1 singles Tia Mukherjee and No. 4 Jenna Silverman, who has moved up to No. 3. Seven of eight flights are seeded, with Emily Ross and Carly Bernard at No. 3 doubles and Susan Baenen and Emma Gray at No. 4 owning top seeds. The one unseeded flight, No. 2 doubles, includes Kaela Bernard, who was part of the runner-up pair at No. 2 last season. Mukherjee is seeded only fourth, but also finished No. 1 singles runner-up in 2017.
Northville: The Mustangs’ win last year came with two flight champions and four runners-up, and a number of those players return. After finishing second at No. 2 singles, Tori Mady has moved up to No. 1, and last year’s No. 3 runner-up Renee Torres also jumped up a flight. Both also won singles flights in 2017. Connie Gao and Sneha Ganan won No. 4 doubles last season, but Ganan is now a seeded player at No. 4 singles and Gao and Michelle Tong are seeded at No. 3 doubles – where Tong and Madison DeYoung were runners-up last season. Sophie Zhuang was part of last season’s No. 1 doubles champion and is part of the fourth-seeded pair this weekend with Maya Mulchandani. The team’s lone top seed is at No. 2 doubles, where DeYoung and Andrea Nam hold down the top spot, Nam coming off a run to the semifinals at that flight a year ago.
Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Kari Miller: The standout junior defeated Mukherjee two seasons ago to win No. 1 singles as a freshman, and after a year away from high school tennis is back as the top seed at the top flight.
Plymouth’s Jessica Braun: The second seed at No. 1 singles has made the quarterfinals twice and semifinals last season at this flight, and gave Miller a run in the first set of their Regional championship match.
Midland Dow’s Meghan Killmaster and Victoria Leiti: Last season’s champion at No. 2 doubles is teaming up as the fifth seed at No. 1.
LP Division 2 at Hope College/Holland Christian
Top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2 Birmingham Seaholm, 3 Bloomfield Hills Marian.
Aside from East Grand Rapids jumping to the top in 2017, either Forest Hills Northern, Seaholm or Marian has won the LPD2 title 15 of the last 16 seasons – with two of them even sharing the title twice. Reigning champ Seaholm won basically a dual with last year’s runner-up Marian at this year’s Regional, while Forest Hills Northern is hoping to make the move from fourth in 2018.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: All eight flights are seeded fourth or higher, with Isabella Paul at No. 3 singles and Alexis Pena at No. 4 topping their flights. Abigail Zhang and Lilia Henkel were No. 2 doubles runners-up a year ago and are seeded third at that flight; Zhang was half of the No. 2 doubles champion in 2017 as well. The Huskies won seven of eight flights and placed second in the eighth at a Regional that included No. 4 East Grand Rapids and No. 7 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central.
Birmingham Seaholm: The Maples cleared the field by seven points last season with five flight championships including a sweep of doubles, and they’re in position to repeat at least the latter. Three pairs are top seeds: Madison Daminato and Emily Hirsch at No. 1, Brooke Forte and Lilly Trinch at No. 2 and Ashley Buechner and Remi Maynard at No. 4, with Hirsch a reigning champion at No. 1, Forte and Trinch the reigning champions at No. 2, Buechner a champ last year at No. 3 and Charlie Kuchman and Sofia Manzo the 2018 champions at No. 4 moving up to earn the second seed at No. 3 this time. Reigning No. 4 singles champ Greta Albertie is the second seed at that flight, and last year’s No. 2 runner-up Sofia Gryzenia has moved to No. 1.
Bloomfield Hills Marian: Last season’s runner-up made a run despite no flight winners but four runners-up including three in doubles, and they also are loaded again with a top seed and three second seeds filling that half of the lineup. Ragad Almsaddi and Gigi Kalabat are the top seed at No. 3 – Kalabat was part of last year’s No. 1 runner-up. This year’s second-seeded No. 1 includes Marlo Hudson – last year’s No. 3 singles runner-up – and 2018 No. 2 singles semifinalist Mia Schwartz. Ariana Kotsakis and Claire Stechow are both back after finishing second at No. 3 doubles last season, Kotsakis again at that flight and Stechow at No. 1 singles. Reigning No. 4 doubles runner-up Emma Albertie and Kathryn Torok both are helping fill out the singles lineup, Albertie a fifth seed at No. 3 and Torok the fourth at No. 4.
East Grand Rapids’ Sloane Teske: To no surprise, the reigning two-time champion at No. 1 singles is the top seed again at the top flight in her final high school tournament.
Holly’s Taylor Barrett: Now a senior and the second seed at No. 1, she made the semifinals as the third seed a year ago and took that match to three sets.
East Grand Rapids’ Halley Elliott: Last season’s champion at No. 3 singles as a second seed is moving up to No. 2 as a junior.
LP Division 3 at Novi
Top-ranked: 1. Detroit Country Day, 2. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3. Allegan.
Country Day is looking to run its championship streak to four after Cranbrook Kingswood won the five previous titles before that. They finished first and second, respectively, a year ago, Country Day just short of a perfect score with 38 points. Allegan was fifth last season and is seeking to add its first Finals title to four runner-up finishes, the most recent coming in 2013.
Detroit Country Day: The Yellowjackets won all but Nos. 1 and 2 doubles at last season’s Finals, and they’re seeded first in four flights this time. Monique Karoub – a two-time champion at No. 2 singles and the No. 1 champion in 2017 – is seeded first at No. 1. Elle Hartje is the top seed at No. 2 singles with championships at No. 3 singles last year and No. 1 doubles her first two. No. 3 singles top seed Alexis Nardicchio won No. 4 singles the last two years. The top seed at No. 1 doubles is made up of Tara Rahmani and Nina Khaghany; Rahmani was a No. 2 doubles champ in 2017 and Khaghany won No. 3 singles that season and was part of the No. 1 doubles runner-up in 2018. Anushri Radhakrishnan and Maria Sicilia won No. 4 doubles last season, and Radhakrishnan returns to No. 4 as part of the third seed while Sicilia is part of the third seed at No. 3.
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: The Cranes are expected to match up with Country Day quite a bit Saturday with five second seeds and Charlotte Brown the top seed at No. 4 singles. Abby Foltyn is part of the second-seeded No. 1 doubles pair after winning No. 2 last season, and Simrin Nagaraju is part of the second seed at No. 2 after finishing runner-up at No. 4 doubles with Mia Inakage, part of the second seed at No. 3 doubles this time. Freshman Nina Govila is the second seed at No. 1 singles.
Allegan: The Tigers are seeded at every flight, with Delaney Heckman and Maddy Layton at No. 3 doubles and Krista Kocur and Maddie Wagner at No. 4 holding down top seeds. Heckman and Layton were the runners-up at No. 3 last season. Emma Philippus and Nicole Galloway were the runners-up at No. 2 and have moved up to the fourth seed at No. 1.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Claire Danko: The fifth seed at No. 1 singles finished runner-up a year ago as a sophomore after entering as the third seed.
LP Division 4 at Kalamazoo College
Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, 2. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, 3. Grosse Ile.
Academy of the Sacred Heart has won five of the last seven Division 4 championships and finished seven points ahead of runner-up Traverse City St. Francis a year ago. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central came in fifth, just two points out of third, and is seeking its first title after coming closest as runner-up in 2012. Grosse Ile won in 2014 and was second in 2013, and tied for 10th in Division 3 last season.
Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart: The Gazelles swept doubles last season and are seeded first at all four of those flights to go with four third seeds in singles. The No. 1 pair is made up of returning Annie Keating and Reagan Beatty, last season’s champion at No. 3 singles. Nolwenn Crosnier was part of the winner last season at No. 2 and is joined this time by Marisa Nafso, while No. 3 top seeds Kate Myers and Serena Seneker won titles with different partners at Nos. 4 and 3 last season, respectively. Hannah Kakos was Myers’ partner last season and is teaming up with Catherine Blumberg for the No. 4 favorite pair.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central: The Kestrels are seeded at seven flights, with the lone unseeded player Willow Biggs returning to No. 1 singles. Taylor Kennedy is the top seed at No. 3 and Hannah Hodgson is the top seed at No. 4 after both finished runners-up at the same flights last year.
Grosse Ile: The Red Devils have posted four straight top-10 finishes in Division 3 since that Division 4 title. They are seeded at six flights with a pair of top-two seeds in singles – top-seeded Jessica Schutt at No. 2 and second-seeded Jenna Sheets at No. 4. Schutt made the quarterfinals at No. 2 last season in Division 3.
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett’s Melanie Zampardo: The top seed at No. 1 singles was the fourth seed and made the semifinals as a sophomore last season and entered as the sixth seed as a freshman.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate’s Moorea McNalley: One of the state’s freshman standouts this spring, she enters her first Finals as the second seed at No. 1 singles.
PHOTO: Bloomfield Hills' Tia Mukherjee returns a volley during last season's run to the LP Division 1 title at No. 1 singles. (Click for 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.)