Work Pays Off as Country Day Rises to Extend Title Streak

By Jarred Chrapek
Special for Second Half

June 5, 2021

HOLLAND –The Detroit Country Day girls tennis team won its fifth straight Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals title Saturday at Holland Christian High School – but keeping the streak going was anything but easy as Country Day overcame several hurdles along the way.

“We came in as a major underdog,” said Yellowjackets coach Jessica Stencel. “We went through a lot of adversity to win this championship. We lost to Cranbrook 7-1 in a dual this season, we lost at the Regional, and we’ve had kids out of the lineup due to injuries and COVID.

“But these kids have practiced hard, and they are super close as a team.”

Country Day needed every player to come through, and the total team effort was the difference in holding off second-place Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood. Hours upon hours of practice throughout the season paid off in a big way for the Yellowjackets.

“This team worked so hard, and it showed today,” Stencel said. “The amount of hours these kids put in this season was incredible. They would hit balls after practice. They would practice after matches. They would practice on Saturdays and Sundays. They put in so many hours to get here.”

Along with a team loaded with hard workers, Country Day also relied on one of the premier singles players in the state. Senior Julia Fliegner, who will be playing her collegiate tennis at the University of Michigan, won the No. 1 singles championship.

Grand Rapids Christian tennisFor Fliegner, the state title was her second in as many trips to the Finals with her first coming during her freshman year. As a sophomore, Fliegner did not play high school tennis, and COVID-19 led to the cancellation of last season.

“Winning the singles title feels pretty good,” Fliegner said, “but I wanted to win the title as a team very badly. I just wanted to do my part for the team and be a leader. I was in a position this year to be a team leader, and I was happy to be able to help lead.”

Junior Charlotte Brown led the way for second-place Cranbrook Kingswood. She won her second individual Finals championship, claiming the title at No. 2 singles.

“This is really special,” Brown said. “I was really nervous, but the match went really well. The wind was very difficult out there, but once I figured that out things went good.”

For the Chelsea tennis team, the number three proved to be the lucky number of the weekend. Not only did Chelsea finish in a program-best third place, but the Bulldogs crowned the first three individual Finals champions in team history.

“This tournament was unbelievable,” said Chelsea coach Tom Osbeck. “The highest we’ve finished before in school history was seventh place. We never had a player reach the finals before, and this year we not only had finalists in three flights but we had three state champions.”

Freshman Anne-Marie Begola claimed the first individual title for the Bulldogs as she won at No. 4 singles.

“This feels amazing,” Begola said. “I was really happy to just make it to states. To win the state championship is an incredible feeling.

“This feels very special. We broke a lot of records as a team, and this was a very special occasion.”

Soon after Begola won her title, Chelsea’s No. 4 doubles team of Megan Boughton and Meghan Bareis won another.

“They are good friends and good teammates,” Osbeck said. “They are just amazing together as a team. They hung in there the whole match against a really good Cranbrook team.”

Cranbrook Kingswood tennisTopping off the day for Chelsea was a surprising effort from senior Rachel Bareis. Unseeded at No. 3 singles, Bareis completed a memorable weekend by winning the flight championship.

“I just gave it everything I had,” Bareis said. “It was the last match of my high school career, and just getting to the Finals was amazing. I relied on my teammates to pull me through. I felt their energy knowing they were all there supporting me. They gave me the energy to push through.”

At No. 1 doubles, the Grand Rapids Christian senior duo of Dafna Heule and Grace Poortenga was another flight champion that surpassed its seed, after entering the weekend third in the bracket.

“Four years of high school tennis all built up to this,” said Heule. “To even get this far as a senior is really special.”

“At a single-elimination tournament like this, most players end their season with a loss,” Poortenga added. “To win your final match is so special. We figured out as partners how to pick each other up.”

Detroit Country Day's Aryasai Radhakrishnan and Marin Norlander also made an impressive run above their seed, claiming the championship at No. 2 doubles despite entering seeded fifth in the flight. No. 3 doubles Alyssa Rahmani and Emily Weinmann succeeded similarly for the Yellowjackets, claiming a championship from the third seed line.

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PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day’s Aryasai Radhakrishnan returns a volley during a No. 2 doubles match Saturday. (Middle) Cranbrook Kingswood’s Daryn Krause takes her position as teammate Kayli Lala prepares to serve at No. 3 doubles. (Below) Grand Rapids Christian’s Dafna Heule serves during a No. 1 doubles match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Reigning UPD1 Champ Negaunee Setting Pace Again as Finals Approach

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 21, 2023

ESCANABA — The Negaunee Miners have been the measuring stick in Upper Peninsula girls tennis for nearly a decade.

Upper PeninsulaNegaunee, which came into this season as reigning Division 1 champion, has taken the U.P. crown seven of the past nine years. Ishpeming Westwood took the title in 2021.

Negaunee is 11-0-1 after a win over Gwinn on Tuesday. The tie came last week against Escanaba.

"We knew we were going to have a target on our backs," said Miners coach Kyle Saari. "We told the girls they have to be ready for every meet. The target is pretty huge, and I think we were sluggish out of the gate. I don't think we finished particularly well at the net. I think our tradition helps us for sure, although it can be a double-edged sword. We want to keep striving to reach benchmarks and make sure we don't get lackadaisical."

Sophomore Liliana Saunders is 12-0 at No. 2 singles. She was the UPD1 No. 4 single champion as a freshman.

"I'm starting to play my game," Saunders said after her 6-0, 6-1 victory over Escanaba’s Molly VanDamme. "I think I'm controlling the ball pretty well, but I need to work on my net play and improve my serving a little.

“Overall, we have a real strong team. We're pretty close-knit and play a lot over the summer. I think our tradition gives us a lot of confidence going into matches."

Saunders' summer work included a trip in early August to Escanaba, where she earned the age 16-18 title in the 76th Annual Michigan-Wisconsin Open with a 7-5, 6-0 victory over Escanaba senior Sophia Derkos.

"I think that really helped me," she said. "She's really a good player. My toughest match this season was against the Westwood girl (sophomore Samantha Ruby). The Gladstone girl (Addy Trombley) is also pretty good."

Derkos – last season’s UPD1 No. 1 singles champion – remained undefeated in five matches after taking a 6-0, 6-1 decision from Negaunee junior Aubrey Johnson at No. 1 singles last week.

"She's a good player, and they're a good team," Derkos said after the match. "This is a big win. I've been waiting to play them and Westwood. Those are the two toughest teams. This is a big confidence boost."

Johnson, last season’s UPD1 runner-up at No. 2 singles, bounced back with a 6-1, 6-1 triumph over Munising's Bailey Corcoran on Thursday and also won Tuesday, and gave Derkos her due after the Escanaba match.

"Sophia knows what she wants to do," said Johnson. "She plays at a pretty fast pace, and I didn't get to the net as much as I'd like. She's very patient. You can tell she's an experienced player. I can learn from playing against her."

The Miners, as they did in singles, split their four matches with Escanaba in doubles.

Seniors Sage Juntti and Olivia Lumseth are the reigning UPD1 champs at No. 2 doubles, and Kallen Schultz was part of the No. 3 champion last season and is playing No. 1 this fall with Madison Frustaglio, who was part of the 2022 runner-up at their flight.

“We have a very good coach. He always challenges us, so we can get better,” Juntti said. “We do our usual stuff. If it's not good, he just makes us work on it until it is good."

Except for the Escanaba tie and a 5-3 triumph over Westwood, all of the Miners' victories have been shutouts (8-0).

"The biggest part of our success is the girls are supportive of each other," Saari said. "They're all quality kids."

Negaunee's success also has made Escanaba coach Chris Ogren take notice.

"Kyle has been there a long time," he said. "They have one of the most athletic teams, and they're very disciplined. You always have to be ready when you play them.

“We have some good teams up here. You always have to be mentally prepared."

Negaunee hosts Gwinn, Menominee and Marquette before also hosting the Mid-Peninsula Conference tournament Sept. 27.

The U.P. Division 1 Finals will take place Oct. 4 in Marquette.

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO Negaunee’s Aubrey Johnson serves during her match against Escanaba’s Sophia Derkos on Sept. 13. (Photo by Mitch Vosburg/Escanaba Daily Press.)