By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Reigning champions will abound at this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals.
But a few have opportunities to cement themselves in the MHSAA record book as well.
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood can become just the third program to win at least five straight MHSAA LP girls tennis championships – and first since Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett finished a nine-season run in 2002.
Meanwhile, Okemos’ Emily Struble can repeat as No. 1 singles champion in Division 2 – and finish her career with four individual titles, becoming just the fifth player to accomplish that feat. Utica’s Davina Nguyen and Kalamazoo Christian’s Audrey Bouma can join a group of 15 who have won three MHSAA flight championships.
Coverage of all four Finals will be published on Second Half later Saturday evening. Below is a brief look at top contenders at each tournament, with play beginning Friday morning. Click for more including brackets and seeds for all 32 flights.
DIVISION 1 at Greater Midland Tennis Center
Top ranked: 1. Northville, 2. Midland Dow, 3. Grosse Pointe South.
Grosse Pointe South won last season’s Final by six points and is seeking its third title in four seasons. Midland Dow is seeking its first title since 2009 and first top-two finish since 2010. But both are expected to chase Northville – which is seeking its first championship and tied for third a year ago.
Northville: A sweep of doubles certainly would carry Northville far in its title quest, and the Mustangs are seeded first at all four of those flights with Anika Mukherji and Reeshma Kumar at No. 1, Paige Baal and Claudia Ma at No. 2, Jordan Hermiz and Amelia Albanelli at No. 3 and Serena Wang and Molly Bis at No. 4. Hermiz was part of last season’s No. 3 champion. All but one flight is seeded, and No. 3 singles Joanne Gao also earned a top spot heading into the weekend.
Midland Dow: All eight flights are seeded as Dow aspires to ascend from last season’s tie for seventh place. No. 2 singles player and freshman Jessica Brown is the top seed at her flight, and Elaina Parrillo is the second seed at No. 3 after finishing runner-up at No. 4 in 2014. Top singles player McKenna Root missed last season with injuries but has returned and signed to play next season at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Grosse Pointe South – The Blue Devils return one singles player and a doubles pair who won championships last season plus two more previous singles champions. Grosse Pointe South has claimed No. 4 singles the last three seasons with Maggie Sweeney (now No. 1 doubles) in 2012, Madie Flournoy (now No. 3) in 2013 and Maddie Paolucci (second seed at No. 2) winning the flight last spring. Kelly Beardslee and Ginny Hayden are the second seed at No. 2 doubles after winning No. 4 last year, and Morgane Flournoy was part of last season’s No. 2 runner-up and will team with Sweeney at No. 1. Raven Neely is the second seed at No. 1 singles after making the semifinals last season.
Utica’s Davina Nguyen: The senior standout can finish with her third championship at No. 1 singles to go with last season’s and her 2012 title. The future Michigan State University player enters as the second seed, however, after losing her Regional Final match to Ava Thielman (see below).
Utica Eisenhower’s Ava Thielman: Eisenhower’s sophomore defeated Nguyen in three sets two weeks ago and also defeated her in an eight-game set earlier this season. Thielman was unseeded last season and made the quarterfinals; her only loss this season is to Struble of Okemos, according to an Oakland Press report.
Clarkston’s Isabella Spindler: The Wolves’ junior moved up to No. 1 singles after finishing runner-up at No. 2 as a freshman and making the semifinals of that flight last season. She enters as the fourth seed this weekend.
Other returning 2014 flight champions: Port Huron Northern’s Fran Basha (No. 1 doubles in 2014, No. 1 singles this season), Port Huron Northern’s Maggie Bacheller (No. 2 doubles in 2014, No. 1 doubles with Margaret Smith this season).
DIVISION 2 at Kalamazoo College
Top ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2. Birmingham Seaholm, 3. Bloomfield Hills Marian.
One of these three teams has won Division 2 every season dating to 2003. Forest Hills Northern owns eight of those titles and split last year’s with Seaholm – with Marian finishing third after winning most recently in 2013.
Forest Hills Northern: The Huskies’ strength should continue to shine. Reigning champion Madeline Bissett at No. 2 singles and runner-up Sydney Whitfield at No. 4 return as top seeds at those respective flights, and No. 1 runner-up Claire Aleck is back as a third seed at that flight. Forest Hills Northern also won two doubles flights last season and are top-seeded at two again with Felicia Zhang and Maansi Dalmia at No. 2 and Lizzy Vanharn and Denise Bilbao at No. 4.
Birmingham Seaholm: Five individuals who were part of flight championships last season lead the squad; Claire Markley is unseeded at No. 1 singles but won No. 3 in 2014, and Sophie Dixon is the second seed at No. 2 after pairing with Lisa Johnston (now top-seeded at No. 3 singles) to win No. 4 doubles a year ago. Meaghan Flynn and Emily McDermott won No. 3 doubles last season; Flynn is part of the second seed at No. 2 with McDermott part of the third seed at No. 3.
Bloomfield Hills Marian: The Mustangs should make another push with veterans at the top of the lineup. Breann Lungham is unseeded at No. 1 singles but won No. 3 in 2013 and made the quarterfinals at No. 2 a year ago. Sophia Belardo returns as champion at No. 4, and McKenna Landis (No. 1 doubles) and Marta Colisimo (No. 4) were part of runner-up pairs last season at Nos. 2 and 4, respectively. Landis and Bianca Emde are the top seed at No. 1.
Okemos’ Emily Struble: The reigning champion at No. 1 singles is top-seeded and also won No. 2 as both a freshman and sophomore. She beat Aleck in three sets in last season’s championship match.
Mason’s Olivia Hanover: The Bulldogs’ sophomore enters as the second seed at No. 1 singles while playing her first Finals – her team didn’t make the tournament last season, when she played No. 2 singles behind 2012 No. 1 singles champion Abby Perkins.
Portage Central’s Lauren Lomax: She took Struble to 7-5, 6-3, in last season’s quarterfinal as a junior and returns as the fourth seed at No. 1 for the second straight season.
Fenton’s Madison Ballard: She took Aleck to three sets in last season’s semifinal at No. 1 and returns as the fifth seed after entering as the third in 2014.
DIVISION 3 at Holly/Fenton/Grand Blanc
Top ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Detroit Country Day, 3. Grand Rapids Christian.
Cranbrook Kingswood is looking to extend its championship streak to five straight. The Cranes cleared Detroit Country Day by 11 points last season, and Country Day also finished runner-up in 2011 after winning in 2010.
Cranbrook Kingswood: All eight flights are again seeded, but unlike last season – when the team had six top seeds – the Cranes have none. Four flights are seeded second, however, and six players were part of flight championships last season. Reigning No. 4 singles champion Jazz Teste is seeded third at No. 3 this weekend. Meg Phyle (No. 1 doubles) and Amanda Simmons (No. 2) won the No. 1 doubles championship last season; Simmons is now teaming with reigning No. 2 doubles champ Amanda Twu at that flight while 2014 No. 4 doubles runner-up Sloan Wysocki has joined Phyle at No. 1. Mackenzie Beckett is back at No. 3 doubles after being part of that champion last year and will pair with Sauma Du, who was the other half of the No. 4 runner-up.
Detroit Country Day: A strong singles lineup should key the Yellowjackets’ contention; No. 2 Haley Mullins, No. 3 Sadina Fadel and No. 4 Sarah Carroll all are top seeds, while No. 1 Sasha Hartje is a second seed. Mullins and Carroll were runners-up at the same flights in 2014, and Sharmila Prabhu was part of the runner-up pair at No. 3 doubles; she and Tara Tang are the fifth seed at that flight this weekend.
Grand Rapids Christian: The Eagles finished only four points behind Country Day last season and carry eight seeds into this weekend with powerful doubles teams. Three pairs are top-seeded: Olivia DeVos and Caroline Heule at No. 2, Natalie DeBoer and Kate Zwiers at No. 3 and Emily Schellenboom and Rachel Koopman at No. 4. DeVos and Heule were runners-up at No. 2 last season, and Koopman was part of the No. 4 champion.
Williamston’s Sara Daavettila: In last season’s No. 1 singles championship match, she dealt Cranbrook Kingswood’s Alexandria Najarian the latter’s only high school loss. Daavettila, a junior, is undefeated over her two-season high school career.
St. Clair’s Ally Winkler and Ally Kennedy: The top seeds at No. 1 carry plenty of experience, making the quarterfinals last season as the fifth seed. Winkler made the semifinals in 2013 with a different partner, when Kennedy and a different partner made the No. 2 doubles semis.
Other returning 2014 flight champions: Grosse Ile’s Kennedy Quinn (No. 4 singles in Division 4 in 2014, No. 3 singles in Division 3 this season), Grosse Ile’s Rose Tucker (No. 4 doubles in Division 4 in 2014, No. 2 doubles with Luna Terauchi in Division 3 this season).
DIVISION 4 at Holland
Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, 2. Traverse City St. Francis, 3. Ludington.
Academy of the Sacred Heart is looking to return to the top after winning LP Division 4 in 2012 and 2013 and finishing sixth a year ago. St. Francis was third and Ludington fifth in 2014. Grosse Ile, last season’s champion, moved into Division 3 for this school year.
Academy of the Sacred Heart: Junior Jeannie Nash adds a top seed at No. 1 singles to four top-seeded doubles pairs: Selina Fuchs and Abby Hildebrand at No. 1, Sara Gerard and Kendall Gassman at No. 2, Tate Lehmann and Kathryn Monahan at No. 3 and Stella Betrus and Sarah Panone at No. 4. Gretchen Lemon was part of last season’s champion at No. 1 doubles, and this weekend she’s seeded fourth at No. 2 singles. Lehmann was the No. 4 singles champ in 2013.
Traverse City St. Francis: Four of the team’s five seeds are in singles, where Natalie Burke is the top seed at No. 3 and Anne Bandrowski the favorite at No. 4. Rosemary Wilson has an MHSAA flight championship to her credit, at No. 3 doubles last season; she and Nicole Ehardt are seeded fifth at No. 2.
Ludington: The Orioles also are seeded at five flights, with Julie Maltbie and Claire Flewelling at No. 2 doubles the highest as a second seed. They were runners-up up at No. 3 doubles last season. Brooke Schneider and Olivia Laman were last season’s champions at No. 2 doubles; this weekend, Schneider is playing No. 1 singles while Laman is teaming with Stephanie Kelley as a the sixth seed at No. 1 doubles.
Lansing Catholic’s Calla Ramont: Last season’s No. 1 singles runner-up is only the sixth seed heading into this weekend after entering the 2014 Final as a third seed. She won No. 3 singles in 2012.
Kalamazoo Christian’s Audrey Bouma: After winning No. 3 singles the last two seasons, Bouma is moving up to No. 2 – and is the top seed at that flight.
PHOTO: Okemos’ Emily Struble, here during last season’s No. 1 singles championship match at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final, is among a number of past winners looking to reign again.
ESCANABA — The Negaunee Miners have been the measuring stick in Upper Peninsula girls tennis for nearly a decade.
Negaunee, which came into this season as reigning Division 1 champion, has taken the U.P. crown seven of the past nine years. Ishpeming Westwood took the title in 2021.
Negaunee is 11-0-1 after a win over Gwinn on Tuesday. The tie came last week against Escanaba.
"We knew we were going to have a target on our backs," said Miners coach Kyle Saari. "We told the girls they have to be ready for every meet. The target is pretty huge, and I think we were sluggish out of the gate. I don't think we finished particularly well at the net. I think our tradition helps us for sure, although it can be a double-edged sword. We want to keep striving to reach benchmarks and make sure we don't get lackadaisical."
Sophomore Liliana Saunders is 12-0 at No. 2 singles. She was the UPD1 No. 4 single champion as a freshman.
"I'm starting to play my game," Saunders said after her 6-0, 6-1 victory over Escanaba’s Molly VanDamme. "I think I'm controlling the ball pretty well, but I need to work on my net play and improve my serving a little.
“Overall, we have a real strong team. We're pretty close-knit and play a lot over the summer. I think our tradition gives us a lot of confidence going into matches."
Saunders' summer work included a trip in early August to Escanaba, where she earned the age 16-18 title in the 76th Annual Michigan-Wisconsin Open with a 7-5, 6-0 victory over Escanaba senior Sophia Derkos.
"I think that really helped me," she said. "She's really a good player. My toughest match this season was against the Westwood girl (sophomore Samantha Ruby). The Gladstone girl (Addy Trombley) is also pretty good."
Derkos – last season’s UPD1 No. 1 singles champion – remained undefeated in five matches after taking a 6-0, 6-1 decision from Negaunee junior Aubrey Johnson at No. 1 singles last week.
"She's a good player, and they're a good team," Derkos said after the match. "This is a big win. I've been waiting to play them and Westwood. Those are the two toughest teams. This is a big confidence boost."
Johnson, last season’s UPD1 runner-up at No. 2 singles, bounced back with a 6-1, 6-1 triumph over Munising's Bailey Corcoran on Thursday and also won Tuesday, and gave Derkos her due after the Escanaba match.
"Sophia knows what she wants to do," said Johnson. "She plays at a pretty fast pace, and I didn't get to the net as much as I'd like. She's very patient. You can tell she's an experienced player. I can learn from playing against her."
The Miners, as they did in singles, split their four matches with Escanaba in doubles.
Seniors Sage Juntti and Olivia Lumseth are the reigning UPD1 champs at No. 2 doubles, and Kallen Schultz was part of the No. 3 champion last season and is playing No. 1 this fall with Madison Frustaglio, who was part of the 2022 runner-up at their flight.
“We have a very good coach. He always challenges us, so we can get better,” Juntti said. “We do our usual stuff. If it's not good, he just makes us work on it until it is good."
Except for the Escanaba tie and a 5-3 triumph over Westwood, all of the Miners' victories have been shutouts (8-0).
"The biggest part of our success is the girls are supportive of each other," Saari said. "They're all quality kids."
Negaunee's success also has made Escanaba coach Chris Ogren take notice.
"Kyle has been there a long time," he said. "They have one of the most athletic teams, and they're very disciplined. You always have to be ready when you play them.
“We have some good teams up here. You always have to be mentally prepared."
Negaunee hosts Gwinn, Menominee and Marquette before also hosting the Mid-Peninsula Conference tournament Sept. 27.
The U.P. Division 1 Finals will take place Oct. 4 in Marquette.
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTO Negaunee’s Aubrey Johnson serves during her match against Escanaba’s Sophia Derkos on Sept. 13. (Photo by Mitch Vosburg/Escanaba Daily Press.)