By Craig Remsburg
Special to Second Half
ISHPEMING — His team has now won five straight MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 championships. But coach Chris Jackson isn’t about to call his Ishpeming Westwood High School girls tennis program a dynasty.
“We just have good player participation,” he said after his Patriots totaled 14 points to beat runner-up Iron Mountain by one Wednesday. “This is the biggest ‘team’ victory out of all of them, though.”
West Iron County placed third with 10 points followed by Ishpeming (7), Ironwood (6), Munising (4) and Gwinn (1).
“I’m just drained,” Jackson said. “This was the most tense finals out of all of them.”
Westwood’s No. 3 doubles team of Lacey Pietro and Olivia Derocher, its No. 4 doubles tandem of Emily Carlson and Jamee Ferris, and Rachel Anderson at No. 4 singles all won titles.
Jackson said his No. 4 doubles unit, which rallied to knock off Hannah Hakamaki and Grace Hansen of Iron Mountain by a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 count, was a key to the win.
“They were our last group on the court. If they win, we win by one point,” he said. “They were down 5-2 in the second set and won 7-5, In one stretch, they won 10 of 11 games.”
Anderson added a No. 4 singles crown to her resume after winning at No. 4 doubles last season.
“At first, I was shaky,” she said of her 6-3, 6-0 win over Jessie Prudhomme of West Iron. “But after a few games, I got into my rhythm.
“It was great to be a No. 4 doubles champ, but this one is better because I did it on my own.”
Jackson said his team’s victory came from other factors as well.
“Our No. 3 doubles are both seniors and got our finals started,” Jackson said. “It was our first finals win (of the day).
“Megan Chapman got into the semis and got us a point, and Caitlin Hewitt (at No. 2 doubles with Gabby Hebert) picked up points playing with a leg injury. Caitlin had been playing No. 1 singles until her injury three weeks ago. She was able to contribute at No. 2 doubles, and it’s a case of a senior sacrificing for the better of the team.”
Iron Mountain claimed wins at No. 1 singles with Katie Brule, No. 2 singles with Olivia Truscott and No. 2 doubles with twins Katie and Emily Bugni.
“It was a very hard match,” Brule said of her 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 win over Ironwood’s Katie Piispanen. “She hit the ball well, placed it well and made me run. But my overheads were good and so were my serves.
“I stayed consistent in the tiebreaker and didn’t get frustrated. I felt better about things after winning that.” she added, noting she won a U.P. title at No. 2 singles in 2012.
Truscott, meanwhile, beat Jaime Olson of Ishpeming, 6-0, 6-4.
“My ball placement was good, my serves were ‘on’ today and I came to the net a lot,” Truscott said. “(Olson) hits everything back to you and my approach shots had to be good. I just had to attack.
“In the second set,” Truscott added, “I had to slow it down and just try to get my shots in.”
Said Iron Mountain coach Greg Stegall: “Olivia’s a sophomore with a good work ethic. She’s a competitor.”
The Mountaineers’ Bugni sisters, who won a peninsula crown at No. 3 doubles last season, knocked off Westwood’s Hebert and Hewitt, 6-1, 6-3.
“We had to get each other’s confidence up. Those (Westwood) girls are good,” said Emily, 45 minutes older than her twin.
Added Kate: “We hit the ball well, and communicated well. I was also good at the net.”
Iron Mountain placed second to Westwood last year by two points.
“It seems to be our scenario: we come up one match short of making everyone happy,” Stegall said. “It’s disappointing to come up one point short.
“But I have a good group of sophomores — five are coming back. It’s a pleasure to work with them.”
Ironwood’s Rachel Pallin and Danielle Begalle defeated Adelle Gendron and Alex Paquette of Munising, 6-4, 7-5, at No. 1 doubles.
“We had to fight for it,” Begalle said. “This was only our second time playing together.
Added Pallin: “We took our time and placed our shots well. We weren’t rushing.
“What a way to end our senior year. This was (coach Annette Burchell’s) first time with a flight winner in the U.P. Finals (in her 10 years of coaching).”
PHOTOS: (Top) Westwood's Rachel Anderson returns the ball to her West Iron County opponent during their championship match. (Middle) Iron Mountain’s Katie Brule runs to return the ball to her Ironwood opponent during a championship match of the Upper Peninsula Division 2 Finals on Wednesday. (Photos by Adelle Whitefoot 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.”