KINGSFORD — The West Iron County girls couldn’t have had a better ending to their tennis season Thursday as they earned their first Upper Peninsula Division 2 championship since 2006.
West Iron scored 13 points, followed by Munising with 12, Iron Mountain 11, Ishpeming nine, Gwinn five, and Norway and Ironwood with one apiece. The Wykons had finished runners-up the last three seasons.
Junior Kali Applin secured the title by taking a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 decision from Iron Mountain senior Arianna Morel at No. 2 singles on a chilly and windy day.
“It was a good match,” said Applin. “Coach (Joe Serbentas) told me we could share the title or be selfish and win it for ourselves. This is a big accomplishment for our team, and it feels great to win it for myself and the team. Dropping the second set was kind of a letdown, but I just tried to stay calm and play one point at a time.”
West Iron senior Tori Bociek became a four-time U.P. champion as she teamed with junior Madison Berutti in a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Iron Mountain sophomore Aziza Burgoon and junior Bella Brown in No. 1 doubles.
“It feels great to be a four-time U.P. champion,” said Bociek, who will be attending classes at Northern Michigan University next fall. “I was confident coming in, knowing we had beaten every team here pretty easily during the regular season. The season went real well. We improved a lot.”
Berutti kept an eye at the net while Bociek was hitting her shots.
“I was playing mostly at the net and let Tori hit the ball,” Berutti said. “Although, I hit some lobs over the net.
“The wind and cold didn’t bother us. We practiced in that every day. There was no need for us to adjust.”
Wykons junior Aurora Dahl was crowned champion in No. 3 singles following a 6-3, 6-0 triumph over Munising’s Jenna Mattson.
“I just wanted to make sure to get most of my shots in,” said Dahl. “I tried to angle my shots and leave the court open which gave me a few more options. The wind affected some of my serves. Otherwise, it wasn’t much of a factor.
“This is my first year playing singles. It was kind of a big adjustment. It was hard to get used to singles at first, but now I enjoy singles more.”
Munising’s lone flight title came at No. 3 doubles where Madeline Cole-Elizabeth Holloway topped Ishpeming’s Ashley Stille-Hailey Hyttinen 6-3, 6-2.
Iron Mountain senior Claire Mongrain gained her first U.P. title with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over West Iron senior Olivia Mazurek at No. 1 singles.
“I was definitely surprised by the margin of victory,” said Mongrain, who plans to attend Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay to major in dental hygiene. “We battled all season and had really close scores. I just tried to play one point at a time.
“The weather seemed to change every five minutes, typical of U.P. weather. I hit the ball long all the time. For that reason I prefer to hit into the wind. I couldn’t think of a better ending. I played great players this year. There were different rules because of the virus (Covid-19), but everybody was real good about it.”
Although disappointed in the outcome, Mazurek was gracious in defeat.
“I just had my head down, although I’m happy with the season we had,” she said. “I’m glad I made it to the championship match. She came out on fire. She was really good. I’m glad we at least got to play. Covid-19 affected everybody.”
Serbentas said the title was a long time coming.
“We had real good senior leaders,” he added. “Olivia has been a great asset to our program, somebody the girls look up to. Even though she didn’t win a championship today, Olivia was a great leader. Our No. 1 doubles were outstanding all season and Aurora made the transition from doubles to singles beautifully. The girls truly deserve to win it. This was a hard year with Covid-19.”
Iron Mountain also won No. 2 doubles with junior Danika Juul and sophomore Natalia Brown taking a 7-5, 6-3 decision from Munising’s Lori Mattson-Peyton Cotey.
“The girls did a great job,” said first-year Mountaineers’ coach Marcus Celello. “We have a lot of sophomores and I was happy to have the senior leadership. It was nice to see Claire come through and get a U.P. title. I didn’t play tennis in high school so this was a big learning experience for me. We can’t overlook how helpful our seniors were in my first year.”
Ishpeming took the remaining championships with Lily Thompson topping Gwinn’s Emma Clairmont 6-3, 6-2 in No. 4 singles and Addison Morton-Jenna Maki defeating West Iron’s Haille Bradshaw-Bailey Hoffart 6-4, 6-0 at No. 2 doubles.
“We had some girls who did very well,” said Gwinn coach Darcia Mattson. “This is the first time we’ve had one of our girls in the finals. Hopefully, we can build on this, and I really think we will. Having new courts in Gwinn and an assistant coach really helps.”
PHOTOS: (Top) West Iron County’s Olivia Mazurek fires a backhand during a No. 1 singles match Thursday. (Middle) Iron Mountain’s Claire Mongrain sends back a volley at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Theresa Proudfit.)
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.”