KINGSFORD — There were tears of sorrow, then tears of joy among some Kingsford High School tennis players as they were crowned MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 champions with 18 points Wednesday.
Negaunee, which shared last year’s title with Kingsford, was runner-up this time with 14. Third-place Escanaba had nine.
Kingsford reached the title round in all eight flights, but won only two.
“It was kind of bittersweet,” Kingsford coach Mark Shanks said. “None of our eight seniors won their flights. My daughter’s No. 1 doubles (seniors Anna Shanks and Kate Lamy) and No. 3 singles (senior Santina Bianco) went down today. This was the first loss in more than two years for Santina – although our three juniors won.
“We talked all week since the GNC (Great Northern Conference) meet how the U.P. Finals would be a different situation with single elimination. Had any of our kids lost in the semifinals, it would have meant no points in that flight. Our biggest challenge was getting to the finals without zeroes. That assured us of scoring at least 16 points.”
Juniors Ali VanRemortel and Jaelyn Jennings provided the Flivvers with their first championship in No. 2 doubles, taking a 7-6 (8-6), 6-0 decision from Negaunee senior Kylee Taavola and junior Hanna Kantola.
“We tend to start slow, but we always stay positive,” VanRemortel said. “We just forget about our mistakes and play our game. We played a more conservative first set because we hadn’t seen them since the beginning of the season.”
Taavola-Kantola, often attacking the net early in the match, built leads of 3-0 and 4-2 in the first set.
They led for the final time at 6-5. But the Flivvers then tied the score by taking advantage of a pair of double faults prior to pulling out that set.
“It took a little while for us to adjust to what they were doing,” Jennings said. “They were playing very well. In the break between the first and second set, we could tell we were coming on and we weren’t going to let up. It’s awesome to feel this way. There was definitely some pressure coming in here as the favored team. We knew everybody was coming after Kingsford.”
Kingsford junior Janay Walters earned the No. 2 singles crown with a 7-5, 6-3 triumph over Negaunee senior Abbi Kill.
“We were about even (in ability) and hustling after the ball really helped,” Walters said. “I’ve gotten better at recovering after every play. Thankfully, I was able to keep returning the ball. I knew I had to bring my A game. It’s tough to play Abbi because she’s very good with her placement of the ball, and her shots are hard and solid.”
Negaunee junior Allison Carlson finished a perfect season with a convincing 6-2, 6-0 victory over Kingsford senior Hannah Tresedder in No. 1 singles.
“I just tried to be consistent and be in position when she came to the net,” said Carlson, who also plays hockey for the Marquette Sentinels travel team. “She came to the net a lot, so I wanted to hit the ball deep. She’s a good player. It’s always a good match when I play her.”
At No. 3 singles, Negaunee sophomore Angie Ring topped Bianco 6-4, 6-1.
“As a whole, I’m proud of our girls,” said Negaunee coach Kyle Saari. “We knew it was going to be a battle with Kingsford. Anytime you have seniors in the U.P. Finals, you never know what’s going through their minds with this being their last high school match. For Angie to come here as a sophomore and beat a senior who hasn’t lost in more than two years is a great effort on her part. Allison is a true athlete. Athletes like her know how to grind a point out. They just find a way to get the ball over the net.
“We have a fairly young team and (we’re) pleased with being runner-up. You’re dealt a new hand every year, and that’s what’s fun about high school sports.”
Negaunee also claimed No. 4 singles where junior Dana DeBretto topped Kingsford freshman Katy Hicks 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Escanaba junior Olivia Berquist and senior Shelby Gregoire took No. 1 doubles in a 6-2, 6-1 conquest of Kingsford seniors Anna Shanks and Kate Lamy.
“We kept playing strong this year,” said Berquist, who teamed with Gregoire for the No. 4 doubles crown last season. “This is very different from No. 4 doubles because it’s a lot harder. The team we just played has been in No. 1 doubles since they were sophomores. We just found a way to push through it.”
This marked the first time in five meetings this year the Berquist-Gregoire duo beat Shanks and Lamy.
“We went three sets with them in the GNC meet (on Sept. 25),” said Gregoire. “The first time we played them, they blew us out of the water. Since then, we had gotten a little closer each time. The momentum we gained from winning the first set was huge. This is the best way to end my senior year, for sure.”
In No. 3 doubles, Escanaba junior Olivia LaForest and sophomore Emily LaFave outlasted Kingsford seniors Megan VanPembrook and Taylor Jacobson 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) for the title.
“A lot of it is we’re learning to relax and take it one point at a time,” said LaForest. “The will for us to win this after beating them in the GNCs was huge. We kept telling each other and ourselves we could do it. This may be a game of physical challenge, but much of it is mental.”
LaFave had similar thoughts.
“We just wanted to be a little more patient,” she said. “We tried to let the game come to us. It’s really fun playing with Olivia. She keeps my spirits up when I’m down, and I try to keep her spirits up when she’s down.”
Marquette took the remaining flight (No. 4 doubles) with sophomores Brenna Leafers and Aubrey Reynolds-Erspamer defeating Kingsford seniors Abby Johnson and Kelsey Bennett 6-2, 6-7, 6-1.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kingsford's Anna Shanks sends a shot back toward Negaunee during the No. 1 doubles semifinal match on Wednesday. (Middle) Escanaba's Johanna Snowden swoops in to defend a spike from Menominee's Molly Jackson during their quarterfinal match at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Keith Shelton for Second Half).
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.”