Westwood Adds Division 1 Title to Long Championship History

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

September 30, 2021

KINGSFORD — Ishpeming Westwood enjoyed a big day at the Upper Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals on Wednesday, earning their first Division 1 title with 20 points.

They were followed by 2020 champion Negaunee with 15, Escanaba 12, Gladstone four, Marquette and Menominee two apiece and Kingsford.

This marked the 13th title in 18 years for the Patriots, who competed in Division 2 until last year.

“This was a fantastic finish for us,” said Westwood coach Sarah Massie. “We felt we had a chance, but we knew there would be a lot of battling. Playing against the bigger schools is more challenging and unpredictable.

“We preached to the girls when you get to the U.P. Finals, you’re playing for your team. We had a lot of seniors and freshmen this year. We had a nice mix. We had a lot of freshmen come out this year, which was nice to see.”

Westwood seniors Natalie Prophet and Natalie Blanck defeated Escanaba’s Abby Hill and Gracie Wickham 6-1, 6-4 at No. 1 doubles.

“Keeping a level head and knowing that we knew how to play tennis were the keys for us today,” said Prophet, who won at No. 4 doubles as a sophomore in 2019. “Tennis is such a mental game. In the first set, we were confident in our shots. We hit good shots and didn’t make many errors. They weren’t hitting their shots in the first set, then they settled down and started to find their groove.

“It feels great to win as a team, especially after all the work we put in which got us to this point.”

Blanck had similar thoughts on the championship match.

“Coach told us to be patient,” she said. “In the first set, we were pretty confident. Although, we never lost our confidence when they started to come back.”

Negaunee tennisFreshman Lexi Olson and Alyssa Prophet came through for the Patriots in No. 2 doubles as they rallied past Escanaba senior Erica Moore and junior Delaney McIntrye 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5) for their title.

Moore and McIntyre led 5-2 in the third set after Moore’s overhand shot landed just inches in front of the back line.

“We knew it was going to be hard,” Prophet said. “We also knew we had to keep fighting. We beat them in the first set and knew we could beat them again. Coach told us it wasn’t over and not to give up until it was over. It’s going to feel great to return as defending champions.”

The Patriots surged ahead 6-5 before Moore-McIntyre got the next point to force a tie-breaker.

“Coach told us to get our heads back in the match,” said Olson. “Once we got within 5-4, we felt we had the momentum. We were a little nervous going into the tie-breaker but came through. That was very special.”

Senior Hannah Mattila and freshman Hannah Niemi added a first for Westwood at No. 3 doubles in a 5-7, 6-0, 6-3 comeback against Negaunee’s Madison Frustaglio and Olivia Luseth.

Westwood’s Alyssa Couveau won at No. 4 singles, topping Negaunee’s Jordan Enright 6-1, 6-2.

Negaunee senior Lillian Nelson defeated Westwood senior Jillian Koski 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1 singles.

“My groundstrokes worked well today,” said Nelson. “My main goal was to stay consistent. I knew I had to stay strong mentally. The hardest thing about this sport is to keep from getting into your own head. This is the first time I won singles. I really had to work hard to get here.”

Negaunee’s Daylen Drew defeated Westwood’s Lindsay Williams 6-2, 6-1 at No. 2 singles and freshmen Audry Johnson and Kellen Schultz posted a 6-1, 6-4 triumph over Westwood senior Lexi Moffat and freshman Izzie Marta in No. 4 doubles.

Senior Lizzy Sliva provided Escanaba with its lone title at No. 3 singles in a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Westwood’s Mallory Leece.

“I stayed focused on what I was doing,” said Sliva. “The second set got close, but I pulled through.

“It feels great to end on a high note. Everybody worked real hard. We have a lot of good girls playing. They gave it their all.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Westwood's Natalie Williams winds up to return a volley during the No. 2 singles championship match Wednesday. (Middle) Negaunee's Lilly Nelson prepares to return a shot during the No. 1 singles finale. (Photos by Matthew McCarthy.) 

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.”