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.)
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.
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.”