By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
NOVI – This might have been the third time in her four-year high school career that Kalamazoo Hackett senior Natalie Moyer was in this spot.
But that doesn’t mean nerves still weren’t a factor when she advanced to the No. 1 singles championship match at the MHSAA Division 4 Finals on Saturday.
“At first I was a little nervous and was playing like I was nervous,” Moyer said. “I just kind of calmed down and played with confidence. Just played my game.”
Moyer definitely did that against Taylor Smith of Jackson Lumen Christi, surviving the first set with a 6-4 win before rolling to a 6-0 win in the second to claim her second Finals championship.
As a sophomore, Moyer won the title at No. 2 singles, but it was another match that was most on her mind Saturday.
Last season, Moyer lost in the championship match at No. 1 singles to Smith by scores of 6-2, 6-2, something that fueled Moyer all offseason and throughout an unbeaten regular season that saw her enter this weekend as the No. 1 seed at the flight (Smith was No. 2).
“I was really motivated to get the state title this year,” said Moyer, who will play in college at Xavier University. “That’s what I wanted all season.”
While Moyer ruled the day individually, the team portion of the tournament belonged to a traditional power.
It felt weird for Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart to not win the crown last season after winning it all four of the previous five years. But Sacred Heart easily returned to the top perch in the state.
The Gazelles scored 32 points, seven ahead of Traverse City St. Francis and 12 ahead of Jackson Lumen Christi, the top-ranked team heading into the tournament.
Sacred Heart entered the postseason ranked No. 2, but coach Judy Hehs said that didn’t provide her team any extra motivation.
“We don’t talk about the rankings,” Hehs said. “We play a really tough schedule, and we don’t understand what it means to play Division 4 schools. They know the Catholic League and they know the independent schools. When we get here, 50 percent of the teams, they don’t know. We don’t talk about rankings.”
Sacred Heart saw Reagan Beatty win the flight title at No. 3 singles with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win over Taylor Kennedy of Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, and the Gazelles dominated the doubles portion of the competition winning all four flights.
Sara Gerard and Annie Keating at No. 1 doubles, Nolwenn Crosnier and Kelleigh Keating at No. 2, Kathryn Monahan and Serena Seneker at No. 3 and the team of Hannah Kakos and Kate Myers and No. 4 doubles all brought home flight championships.
“Every flight on this team this year did what they had to do,” Hehs said. “Everyone contributed.”
Maggie Ketels of Hackett won the title at No. 2 singles with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Oriana Gulvesan of Ann Arbor Greenhills, and Paige Davies of St. Francis won the No. 4 singles title with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Hannah Hodgson of Monroe St. Mary.
In search of its first MHSAA Finals team title in this sport, St. Francis finished as the runner-up for the third time in four years – but this year had a more uplifting feel to it than the others.
“We feel really good about it,” Gladiators coach Paul Bandrowski said. “We were 16th last year, and we lost a lot of seniors. We came back and jumped from 16th all the way back to second. We have a lot of young players.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Hackett's Natalie Moyer fires a shot during her No. 1 singles Quarterfinal. (Middle) Academy of the Sacred Heart's Reagan Beatty volleys during a No. 3 singles match for the eventual team champion. (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.)