By John Walker
Special for Second Half
MIDLAND — Bloomfield Hills junior Tia Mukherjee got redemption, while the Northville girls tennis team eked out another title Saturday at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals at the Greater Midland Tennis Center.
Mukherjee dominated for a 6-0, 6-0 win over Northville senior Shanoli Kumar in the championship match at No. 1 singles. Mukherjee lost 6-0, 6-0 last year in the finals to Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Kari Miller, and said that was motivation.
“It feels great after last year,” Mukherjee said. “That was tough. I didn’t want that to happen again. I was more prepared.
“I improved my fitness and my forehand. I did a lot of off-court conditioning. I didn’t have enough energy going into the finals last year.”
Bloomfield Hills coach Chris Dobson agreed.
“Her fitness level is better,” he said. “Plus another year of maturity, poise and confidence. It makes a difference. She was highly motivated coming in.”
“At the end of the day, Tia was amazing,” Northville coach Linda Jones said.
“I thought she is the best player in the state,” Dobson said, “and she proved it. She played her best match and earned it.”
Northville had to earn its title, too, edging Midland Dow 32-30. Bloomfield Hills was third with 28 points.
The Mustangs shared last year’s title with Dow. Dow won the 2016 title. Northville won in 2015. The two were at it again in 2018.
Northville entered Saturday with 24 points and eight players in the semifinals for the first time in school history. Dow had 23 points with seven players, as did Bloomfield Hills.
Northville won key semifinals matches against Dow at No. 2 and No. 3 singles and advanced six to the finals. Dow advanced five, while Bloomfield Hills advanced three and dropped from contention.
In the finals, Northville and Dow faced off at Nos. 1, 3 and 4 doubles. Dow got the first victory, at No. 3 doubles, and briefly tied the score with a win at No. 2 doubles. But Northville prevailed in the other head-to-head matches, clinching the crown with the win at No. 4 doubles.
“It’s so sweet,” Northville’s Jones said. “This year we lost three important seniors and were seeded No. 2 all season behind Dow. We came in as underdogs. The girls just played over their levels. It’s the most satisfying (title). Three-time state champs is not too bad.”
“Absolutely there’s disappointment,” Dow coach Garrett Turner said, “which is a good thing, I guess. It means we’re doing the right things. We win one of those matches and the nerves are shifted to them. It’s hard to be upset with a second-place finish. We had our chances.”
At No. 2 singles, Ann Arbor Huron junior Miriam Gandam, the No. 1 seed, defeated Northville sophomore Tori Mady, the No. 2 seed, 2-6, 6-0, 6-1. Mady, the 2017 champ at No. 4 singles, got a key semifinals win over Dow’s Zoe Angell, 7-6 (3), 6-1.
At No. 3 singles, Ann Arbor Skyline senior Caroline Cartwright, the No. 2 seed, defeated Northville junior Renee Torres, the No. 4 seed, 6-3, 6-2. Torres, the returning champ at No. 3 singles, upset Dow’s Sarah Ismail, the No. 1 seed and returning champ at No. 2 singles, in a key semifinal match, 6-3, 6-4.
At. No. 4 singles, Jenna Silverman, the No. 1 seed, rallied past Dow senior Hadley Camp, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1) in a 2-hour, 57-minute match. Silverman also rallied for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 win in the semifinals over Northville’s Maya Mulchanandani. Camp was the Finals runner-up for the third straight year.
At No. 1 doubles, Northville senior Serena Wang and junior Sophie Zhuang, the No. 1 seed, defeated Dow seniors Tatum Matthews and Kelly Livingston, the No. 2 seed, 6-1, 6-4.
At No. 2 doubles, Dow junior Meghan Killmaster and sophomore Victoria Leiti, the No. 3 seed, defeated Bloomfield Hills senior Alandria Bellamy and sophomore Kaela Bernard, the No. 4 seed, 6-2, 6-2.
At No. 3 doubles, Dow seniors Giacomina Fabiano and Christina Vanderkelen, the No. 3 seed, defeated Northville junior Madison DeYoung and freshman Michelle Tong, the No. 4 seed, 6-2, 6-3.
At No. 4 doubles, Northville junior Connie Gao and freshman Sneha Ganan, the No. 2 seed, defeated Dow juniors Amelie Kraef and Reema Patel, the No. 1 seed, 6-4, 7-6 (1). Kraef and Patel came into Saturday without losing a set all season but had to rally for a 5-7, 6-1, 7-5 win in the semifinals.
PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills' Tia Mukherjee prepares to return a shot during her No. 1 singles match Saturday. (Middle) Northville poses with its latest MHSAA Finals trophy. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)