Preview: Reunited Co-Champs, Title Streak Possibilities Headline Tennis Finals

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 1, 2022

Many of the strongest contenders are familiar heading into this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals.

But intriguing storylines could make all four tournaments especially memorable for the teams playing to finish on top.

Ann Arbor Pioneer and Bloomfield Hills tied for the Division 1 title a year ago, and are expected to match up to decide this weekend’s championship. In Division 2, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern is favored to play for a third-straight championship, but with an old rival returning to the field. Finals winning streaks in Divisions 3 and 4 face perhaps their stiffest obstacles this time around as well-seeded Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and Ann Arbor Greenhills look to start their own championship runs.

All four divisions again will be played over multiple locations. Division 1 will be played Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, with the final rounds at K-College – and that tournament will begin Thursday and conclude Friday.

The other three divisions will follow the more traditional Friday/Saturday format. Division 2 will be played at Hope College and Holland Christian, finishing up at Hope. Division 3 will play at Midland Tennis Center and Midland High, with final rounds at MTC, and Division 4 will play early rounds at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Pioneer and Ann Arbor Greenhills high schools before concluding at U-M.

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 from the MHSAA Website.

LP Division 1 at Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University

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

Ann Arbor Pioneer: Last season’s championship was the program’s first since 2010, and the singles lineup that swept all four flight titles is back intact – junior Reese Miller (23-0) at No. 1, sophomore Elsie Van Wieren at No. 2, senior Mia Goldstein at No. 3 and sophomore Bridgette Kelly at No. 4 are all top seeds. All four doubles flights are seeded fourth or higher, led by second-seeded senior Ashley Capelli and junior Juliana Pullen at No. 1 and sophomore Mia Berens and freshman Natalie Guo at No. 2. Capelli and Pullen made the No. 1 doubles semifinals last season, while Berens was part of a semifinalist pairing at No. 2.

Bloomfield Hills: Last season’s title was the program’s first and came on the strength of three doubles flight championships and two singles runner-up finishes. The Black Hawks are seeded first at No. 1 doubles with seniors Danielle Herb and Carly Bernard, No. 2 with senior Noa Goldstein and junior Natalie Raab, and No. 3 with seniors Eryn Stern and Grace Bickersteth; and they are seeded second at No. 4 with junior Colleen Pettengill and senior Ellie Alberts. Goldstein (No. 1), Bernard (No. 2), Stern and Raab (No. 3) were part of champion pairs in 2021, with Bickersteth and Alberts the runner-up at No. 4. Bloomfield Hills also has three singles flights seeded third or higher; Julia Yousif was last season’s No. 4 runner-up and is seeded second at that flight, and Grace Shaya was runner-up at No. 3 last spring and is seeded second returning to her flight as well. Raegan Tomina, who won No. 2 doubles with Bernard last year, is the third seed at No. 2 singles this time.

Troy: The Colts are seeking their first Finals team championship since 2003 after tying for fourth last year. All four doubles flights are seeded, led by junior Vienna Thieu and sophomore Michelle Baik topping the No. 4 bracket and junior Varsha Penumalee and senior Prisha Akasapu the second seed at No. 3. Juniors Grace Zhu and Stephanie Ochoa are the third seed at No. 1 doubles after finishing runner-up at No. 2 last season, and sophomore Nika Tanako and senior Sophie Chong were the runners-up at No. 3 in 2021 and are seeded third at No. 2 this weekend. Two singles flights are seeded as well.

Sienna Osborne, Lake Orion sophomore: She enters as the fourth seed at No. 1 singles after going 1-1 as an unseeded entry a year ago. She’s 17-3 this spring, with her defeats to Pioneer’s Miller once and Nicole Fu (see below) twice.

Jenna Redmile, Salem sophomore: She’s the second seed at No. 1 singles after also entering last season’s bracket unseeded and reaching the quarterfinals. She’s 21-1 with her lone loss to Miller.

Nicole Fu, Rochester Adams freshman: The third seed at No. 1 as only a freshman is 17-3 with losses to Miller, Osborne and fifth-seeded Kavitha Gowda of Troy Athens.

LP Division 2 at Hope College and Holland Christian

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

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: The Huskies have won two straight championships (last season and in 2019, with 2020 canceled due to COVID-19) and claimed last year’s title by a commanding 14 points while winning seven flights. Abigial Siminski (25-1) is the reigning champion at No. 1 singles and was runner-up in 2019, and she’s seeded second at that flight this weekend. All eight FHN flights are seeded, and six as second or first seeds. Senior Isabella Paul and sophomore Ryan Morey are the top-seeded No. 2 doubles pair, with seniors Tanishka Shenoy and Maya Echtinaw top seeds at No. 3 and junior Ava Hamilton and sophomore Paige McKenzie the top seeds at No. 4.  Senior Sophie Richards and Rhea Marwaha are only third seeds at No. 1 doubles, but also the reigning champions at that flight. Morey was part of the 2021 champion at No. 2, and Shenoy and Echtinaw also are returning champions at their flight. Sophomore Nathalie Lanne is the second seed at No. 2 singles (after finishing runner-up at No. 4 last season), and freshman Andrea Wang is the top seed at No. 3.

Birmingham Seaholm: The Maples are back in Division 2 after finishing third in Division 1 a year ago, and they’re seeking to finish first again for the first time since 2018. All eight flights are seeded third or higher, led by top-seeded senior Lauren Whitall at No. 4 singles and junior Madeleine Leo and senior Nina Graham on the top line at No. 1 doubles. Senior Jane Wineman and junior Tatum Hirsch at No. 3 doubles, junior Sydney Fong and sophomore Jenna Tin at No. 4 and sophomore Courtney Marcum at No. 2 singles all are second seeds. Senior Sophie MacKinnon (13-4) is the third seed at No. 1 singles.

Grosse Pointe South: The Blue Devils also are back in Division 2 after a run through Division 1, where they tied for fourth last spring. Seven flights are seeded as they seek to add to their most recent championship in 2019 in Division 1, where they’ve won three team titles over the last nine seasons. Sophomore Maeve Hix and junior Megan Kommeier lead with a second seed at No. 2 doubles. Senior Moira Hix (21-6) is the fourth seed at No. 1 singles.

Emma Chrome, Mason senior: Playing in her first Finals since reaching the quarterfinals at No. 2 doubles as a freshman, Chrome is the fifth seed at No. 1 singles and undefeated at 20-0.

Lizzie Novak, Mattawan senior: She’s also undefeated at 12-0 after recovering from an early-season injury, and she’s the top seed at No. 1 singles with an April 21 win over Siminski. Novak was the No. 2 singles champion as a freshman in 2019 and played a USTA schedule instead last spring.

LP Division 3 at Midland Tennis Center and Midland High School

Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. East Grand Rapids, 3. Bloomfield Hills Marian.  

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: There is a lot of notable recent history at this event for the Cranes. After winning five straight championships from 2011-15, they saw Detroit Country Day win the next five – while finishing runners-up the last three Finals (with no season in 2020). Seven of eight flights are top seeds with the eighth a second seed this weekend. Freshman Yenna Park (16-0) is the top seed at No. 1 singles, with reigning champion Charlotte Brown back as the top seed at No. 2. Sophomores Sienna Ilitch and Olivia Zhang are the top seeds at Nos. 3 and 4 singles, respectively, after finishing as runners-up at those flights in 2021. Freshman Chloe Qin is teaming with senior Gaby Levine as the top seed at No. 1 doubles, with freshman Ava Clogg and sophomore Grace Zhang top-seeded at No. 3 and sophomores Daryn Krause and Kayli Lala top-seeded at No. 4. Krause and Lala were the No. 3 runners-up a year ago, and Zhang was part of the runner-up at No. 4 in 2021. Junior Morgan Dresner-Hagaman and freshman Chiarra Martella are second-seeded at No. 2.

East Grand Rapids: The Pioneers moved back into Division 3 after finishing fourth in Division 2 last season, and they most recently were champions in 2017 in Division 2. Seven flights are seeded, with five first or second seeds. Seniors Meg Simon and Ella Webb lead as the top-seeded pair at No. 2 doubles, with junior Ava Godlewski and sophomore Dana Goedken the second seeds at No. 3 and senior Kelly Couvrier and freshman Kate Simon second seeds at No. 4. Sophomore Sam Connor is the second seed at No. 3 singles, and freshman Sophia DeGuzman is the second seed at No. 4. Seniors Julia and Jennifer Ernst are third seeds at No. 1 doubles, but were second seeds at that flight in Division 2 last year as they reached the semifinals. Senior Allie Tol (19-4) might be the strongest five seed in any bracket this weekend, with her losses to FHN’s Siminski (twice), Park and Marian senior Gaby Gryzenia (see below).

Bloomfield Hills Marian: The Mustangs edged Country Day by a point to finish Regional runner-up to Cranbrook two weeks ago, and Marian was runner-up in Division 2 last season before moving back into Division 3 this year. The Mustangs’ most recent championship came in Division 2 in 2016, and they also were runners-up in 2018. All eight flights are seeded, with three seeded third or second. Gryzenia (13-4) leads the way as that second seed, at No. 1 singles, after reaching the quarterfinals at that flight in Division 2 last spring.

Sophia Grzesiak, Detroit Country Day freshman: She tops the lineup at No. 1 singles for the reigning five-time team champion, and enters her first Finals as the fourth seed in her flight. While only 7-8 this spring, she’s split matches with Gryzenia over the last month and taken losses from Park and Pioneer’s Miller.

Julia Gurne, Pontiac Notre Dame sophomore: The reigning No. 1 singles runner-up enters this time as the third seed with an 11-7 record but 10 wins over her last 12 matches.

LP Division 4 at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Pioneer and Ann Arbor Greenhills

Top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Greenhills, 2. Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, 3. Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

Ann Arbor Greenhills: The Gryphons are seeking their first Finals championship since 2017 and finished ninth last season. But the lineup has been boosted by six freshmen including the top three singles players – third-seeded Maddie Morgan (18-4) at No. 1 and top seeds Shangyang Xia at No. 2 and Sophie Chen at No. 3. Seniors Rukmini Nallamothu and Georgia Branch are top seeds at No. 1 doubles after they filled the top two singles flights last season, and senior Sabeen Malick and freshman Meera Tewari have the top line at No. 4. Sophomore Manassa Gollapalli is the second seed at No. 4 singles, with senior Lana Koualti and freshman Sophia Kleer second-seeded at No. 2 doubles and sophomore Parini Rao and freshman Meera Pandey second-seeded at No. 3.

Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart: The Gazelles own a three-season Finals winning streak and have claimed seven of the last nine Division 4 championships. Doubles are a traditional strength, and this year’s team is up to that high standard. Senior Marisa Nafso and sophomore Kayla Nafso are the second seed at No. 1 but also the reigning champion at that flight. Junior Jade Horcoff and senior Angelina Kakos are the top seed at No. 2, with Kakos part of last season’s No. 3 doubles champion. Sophomores Lulu George and Maggie Pulte are the top seeds at No. 3 after finishing runner-up last season at No. 2, and junior Katie Kelly and sophomore Jordan Rivenburgh are the second seeds at No. 4. Senior Isabelle Burg (9-8) is the fourth seed at No. 1 singles after finishing runner-up at No. 2 a year ago, and seven of her eight defeats are against top-four seeded players in the Division 3 and 4 brackets.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central: The Cougars are seeking their first top-two finish at a Finals in this sport, and most recently tied for sixth in Division 3 a year ago. They are seeded in six of eight flights, with three doubles pairs seeded fourth and junior Hannah Lourido the top seed at No. 4 singles.

Moorea McNalley, Clarkston Everest Collegiate senior: She looking to add to her No. 1 singles championships in 2019 and last season, and is seeded second this weekend with her only loss 6-1, 6-2, to top seed Maddy Zampardo (see below). She has two wins over Morgan and also defeated Notre Dame Prep’s Gurne.

Maddy Zampardo, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett junior: Playing in her first Finals, Zampardo is undefeated at 7-0 and the top seed at No. 1 singles with two wins over Burg, the win noted above over McNalley and another that stands out against Grosse Pointe South’s Hix.

PHOTO Ann Arbor Pioneer's Reese Miller returns a volley during her championship match at last season's LP Division 1 Finals. (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.”