Preview: Serving Up Intriguing Scenarios

June 1, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Michigan’s powerhouse girls tennis programs tend to annually contend for MHSAA championships, and this weekend’s four Lower Peninsula Finals should stay true to that pattern.

But a couple of possibilities could bring added intrigue to the mix of often-predictable winners.

One of those powers, Detroit Country Day, has the top seeds at every flight in Division 3 and could make a run at a perfect score. In Division 4, Ann Arbor Greenhills will shoot for its first team title since 2009 to join a recent string won by its boys program, and Jackson Lumen Christi is expected to contend for its first MHSAA Finals team title ever.

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. 6/2, 9 a.m. 6/3)
  • Division 2 – Hope College/Holland Christian HS (8:45 a.m., all finals at Hope)
  • Division 3 – Kalamazoo College (8 a.m. 6/2, 9 a.m. 6/3)
  • Division 4 – Holly/Fenton High Schools (8 a.m. 6/2, 9 a.m. 6/3, all finals at Holly)

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: No. 1 Northville, No. 2 Midland Dow, No. 3 Bloomfield Hills.

Northville and Dow have swapped spots the last two seasons, Northville winning and Dow coming in second in 2015 and the reverse last spring. Northville edged Dow by two points to win the Ann Arbor Invitational at the end of April. If Bloomfield Hills can rise after finishing eighth last season, it would be the program’s first title – including for the two former schools, Lahser and Andover, that combined to form the current one.

Northville: The Mustangs finished only three points back of Dow a year ago and will look to make them up with seven flights seeded either first or second. Neha Chava and Sophie Zhuang won No. 3 doubles last season; Zhuang is playing this season with Serena Wang as the top-seeded pair at No. 1, while Chava and Maya Mulchandani make up the top-seeded pair at No. 2 – Wang and Mulchandani were the runners-up at No. 1 doubles in 2016. Shanoli Kumar is unseeded at No. 1 singles but finished runner-up at No. 2 last spring, and Joanne Gao is second-seeded at No. 2 after finishing runner-up at No. 3 a year ago – both were champions at their former flights in 2015. Also holding down top seeds are Renee Torres at No. 3 singles and Tori Mady at No. 4. Alexandria Petix was part of the No. 4 doubles champion last season and is seeded second at that flight with Madison DeYoung, while Connie Gao and Andrea Nam are second-seeded at No. 3 doubles.

Midland Dow: The reigning champion is seeded at seven flights as well and third or higher at six flights. Sarah Ismail, the No. 3 singles champion last season, is seeded third at No. 2; reigning No. 2 singles champion Caroline Szabo is paired with Christina Vanerkelen as the top seed at No. 3 doubles, while Meghan Killmaster and Kelly Livingston were champions at No. 2 doubles last season and are second-seeded this time at No. 1. Similarly, Tatum Matthews and Mina Fabiano moved up to the second seed at No. 2 doubles after finishing runner-up at No. 3 in 2016, and Maggie Schaller is back at No. 4 doubles this time with Reema Patel and seeded third after Schaller was part of the runner-up last spring. Jessica Brown is unseeded at No. 1 singles but was No. 2 runner-up in 2015 (and seeded sixth at No. 1 last spring), and Hadley Camp is third-seeded at No. 3 and was runner-up at No. 4 in 2015. Freshman Victoria Leiti is seeded fifth at No. 4 singles.

Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks are seeded at six flights as they pursue their first title, with four top-four seeds. Lauren Ruby and Kaela Bernard are the top-seeded pair at No. 4 doubles, and Tia Mukherjee is the second seed at No. 1 singles after making the semifinals at that flight last season as a freshman.

Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Kari Miller: A freshman is the favorite to win No. 1 singles for the second straight season; this time it’s Miller entering the weekend as the top seed at the top flight.

Utica Eisenhower’s Ava Thielman: The No. 1 singles runner-up as a sophomore in 2015, Thielman also made the semifinals last season.

LP Division 2 at Hope College

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

The Pioneers were a distant second last season as Bloomfield Hills Marian dominated with 32 points, but are favorites to win their first MHSAA title since 2009 and first ever in Division 2 after more than a decade as a Division 3 power. Seaholm was fourth and Forest Hills Northern third in 2016, but they are used to being in contention as well; they shared the 2014 title and Seaholm won its third straight in 2015, when Forest Hills Northern was runner-up.

East Grand Rapids: No. 1 singles Sloane Teske, No. 2 Hannah Stuursma and No. 4 Halley Elliott are all top seeds, and No. 3 Audrey Olson is a second seed as that group leads the charge. All four doubles are seeded as well, two pairs as third seeds. The No. 4 pair of Audrey Devries and Kate Mackeigan is seeded third after finishing runner-up at that flight last season. Teske and Stuursma made the semifinals at Nos. 1 and 3 singles, respectively, in 2016.

Birmingham Seaholm: The Maples’ power is at doubles, with all four flights seeded fifth or higher. Caity Buechner is seeded second at No. 2 with Emma Latessa, and Lilly Trinch and Brooke Forte also earned a second seed, at No. 3 doubles. Three singles players are seeded fifth at their flights.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: Six flights are seeded, including three first or second. Felicia Zhang is the second seed at No. 4 singles after winning No. 3 a year ago, and FHN’s other flight champion from last season also is back but split over two flights. Claire Tatman and Salonee Marwaha are the reigning winners at No. 3 doubles, and this time Marwaha is part of the third seed at No. 2 with Abby Zhang, while Tatman is seeded second at No. 1 with Maansi Dalmia.

Mason’s Olivia Hanover: Last season’s runner-up at No. 1 singles beat Teske in the semifinals but is seeded just below Teske this time as the second in their flight.

Okemos’ Monika Francsics: She’s unseeded at No. 1 singles, but gets a mention for a few reasons; she won No. 2 last season and was No. 3 runner-up in 2015, and the Chiefs have had the No. 1 singles champion three seasons in a row.

Traverse City Central’s Yana Beeker and Kristin McLintock: The Trojans’ No. 1 doubles pair is seeded first after Beeker made the semifinals at that flight in Division 1 last season and McLintock made the second round as part of a No. 2 pair.

LP Division 3 at Kalamazoo College

Top-ranked: 1. Detroit Country Day, 2. Grand Rapids Christian, 3. Holland Christian.

Country Day broke Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s hold on Division 3 last season after the Cranes had won five straight titles. But just barely. Country Day scored 32 points, with Grand Rapids Christian at 31 and Cranbrook at 30. The Yellowjackets are favorites again after winning all eight flights at their Regional.

Detroit Country Day: The Yellowjackets are loaded with championship experience. All four singles players are top seeds – Monique Karoub at No. 1, Sadina Fadel at No. 2, Nina Khaghany at No. 3 and Alexis Nardicchio at No. 4 – after Karoub was the No. 2 champion and Fadel won No. 3 last season. The 2016 winner at No. 1 singles, Sasha Hartje, is playing No. 1 doubles with sister Elle Hartje, part of last season’s champion at that flight. Of course they are seeded first, as are Heather Zimmerman and Tara Rahmani at No. 2, Chloe Ward and Ruhi Nayak at No. 3 and Jenna Lee and Maya Nassif at No. 4. Nassif was runner-up at No. 4 with a different partner last spring.

Grand Rapids Christian: The Eagles are seeded at six flights with an impressive singles lineup leading the way. All four singles players are top-three seeds: Leah Newhof is a third seed at No. 1, while No. 2 McKenzie Moorhead, No. 3 Maria Poortenga and No. 4 Emily Schellenboom are all second seeds. Poortenga was the champion last season at No. 4 singles and Moorhead was part of the runner-up at No. 1 doubles.

Holland Christian: The Maroons came in fourth last season and enter with four seeded flights, three of them in doubles. Allyson Zwiep is unseeded at No. 1 singles, but was the runner-up last season at No. 4 as the team finished only five points behind the mix at the top.

Imlay City’s Grace Whitney: Imlay City has never had a flight champion at an MHSAA Girls Tennis Finals, but Whitney made the semifinals last season and enters this weekend the second seed at No. 1 singles.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s Amelia Smith and Kate Cao: Last season’s No. 2 doubles champion enters this weekend seeded second at No. 1.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s Frances Dube and Ava Harb: This pair also won last season and moved up, claiming the title at No. 4 and coming in now the second seed at No. 3.

Division 4 at Holly

Top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Greenhills, 2. Jackson Lumen Christi, 3. Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart has won the last two Division 4 Finals and three of the last four. But the teams to beat at least going in are Greenhills – seeking its first title since 2009 – and Lumen Christi, playing for its first team championship. Lumen Christi was fourth and Greenhills fifth last season.

Ann Arbor Greenhills: All eight flights are third seeds or higher, with four flights earning top seeds. Vidhya Rajaprabhakaran is the top seed at No. 3 singles, and Phoebe Sotiroff is the top seed at No. 4 after making the semifinals at that flight last season. In doubles, Baani Jain and Giselle Farjo are top-seeded at No. 2, and Jamie Todd and Ryan Perry are top-seeded at No. 3. Kate Shaffer also was a semifinalist last season in singles, at No. 1, and returns at that flight two seeds higher as a three this weekend.

Jackson Lumen Christi: All eight flights are seeded and six are seeded either first or second, giving the Titans plenty of opportunity to pursue that first title. Taylor Smith (No. 1), Nina Dunigan (No. 3) and Shae Wright (No. 4) are all second-seeded in singles, and third-seeded Sela Clifford at No. 2 was part of the No. 1 doubles champion last season. Geraldine Berkemeier and Jocee McEldowney are the top seed this time at No. 1 doubles, while Macie Richmond and Cat Carroll earned the top seed at No. 4.

Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart: Six flights are seeded, and the power is at doubles with all four seeded second or third at their respective flights. Sara Gerard and Annie Keating are the second seed at No. 1; Gerard with another partner made the quarterfinals at that flight last season. Margaret Mayer and Kathryn Monahan make up the third seed at No. 2 doubles after Monahan was part of last season’s champion at No. 3.

Kalamazoo Hackett’s Natalie Moyer: Last season’s champion at No. 2 singles is the top seed at No. 1 as she attempts to follow a graduated teammate by winning that flight.  

Kalamazoo Hackett’s Maggie Ketels: She slides into the top seed at No. 2 right behind Moyer after making the No. 3 semifinals last season.

PHOTO: Kalamazoo Hackett’s Natalie Moyer returns a volley last season during her run to the No. 2 singles title at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 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.”