Team of the Month: Negaunee Girls Tennis

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.”

Adams' Fu Hoping to Write Championship Headline After Repeat Finalist Finishes

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

May 23, 2024

ROCHESTER HILLS — An editor for her school newspaper the last two years, Nicole Fu is one who loves to tell good stories and write good headlines. 

Greater Detroit<A junior at Adams, Fu enjoys getting to know people around the school and giving them a moment in the sun, so to speak.

“I love being able to talk with so many people and learn the stories behind their accomplishments,” Fu said.

It’s ironic, because come the end of next Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Girls Tennis Finals, Fu hopes professional media outlets around the state will talk about her own story of accomplishment, possibly with headlines such as “Redemption Feels Sweet for Fu” or “Third Time is Charm for Adams Tennis Star.”

Both the last two years, Fu has advanced to the championship match at No. 1 singles in Division 1. 

But while quite an accomplishment to do so as a freshman and sophomore, she also left somewhat unsatisfied, losing in 2022 to Reese Miller of Ann Arbor Pioneer (6-1, 6-1) and last spring to Sari Woo of Ann Arbor Skyline (6-3, 6-4). 

“Being in the final both my freshman and sophomore years has shown me that I have what it takes to win a state championship even when it gets tough,” Fu said. “Last year especially has shown me that I’m not far from the title, and staying strong both mentally and physically is going to be crucial to hopefully winning a state title.”

No doubt, Fu should be one of the top contenders, if not the favorite.

She enters with an 18-0 record and has brilliantly handled opponents attempting to give her their best performances.

“Her ability to handle the pressure has improved a lot,” Adams head coach Greg Burks said. “She has matured as a top-level player and competes as well as any player I’ve ever had.”

Fu, left, congratulates Ann Arbor Skyline's Sari Woo after their match.Fu actually said she got her start in tennis a little later than most. After dabbling in soccer and swimming, Fu started playing tennis at age 10 when one of her mom’s co-workers gave her a foam ball and a kids racquet. 

“Then I started hitting against our living room wall, and one day my mom asked if I wanted to take an actual tennis lesson,” Fu said. 

From there, Fu started playing in tournaments, and the tennis bug bit her.

“I really loved competing in matches, so I didn’t stop and it ended up being very rewarding,” she said.

Fu also has an accomplished hitting partner in twin sister Katie, who lost in the championship match at No. 2 singles last year. 

“She’s always a great hitting partner, and it’s really nice to have someone who understands the sport and what it takes to balance that out with everything else,” Nicole Fu said. “She’s basically my second brain too, so having her around during the season is super fun and helpful for keeping me in check.”

Fu has a collegiate future in the sport, having committed in November to play tennis at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

“Obviously the education is extraordinary, and attending a service academy builds your character both physically and mentally and sets you up to make an impact on the nation,” Fu said. 

When it comes to next week’s MHSAA Tournament, Fu obviously is aiming to make another impact at the championship level – but this time finish the quest she fell short of the last two years. 

“This year as a back-to-back finalist and a strong favorite has put a lot of pressure on me to win my matches,” she said. “So there’s definitely a lot of expectations for this season, and managing that was a little bit tough in the beginning of the season. But over time I’ve kind of learned to embrace it, and it’s given me more confidence in my matches knowing I’m the player people are aiming to beat.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Rochester Adams' Nicole Fu returns a volley during last season's No. 1 singles championship match at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Fu, left, congratulates Ann Arbor Skyline's Sari Woo after their match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)