NEGAUNEE - Tennis is one of those lifelong sports that people can play seemingly forever.
But high school tennis, particularly for girls, is quite a sprint - the season began last week in mid-August and will finish before September is over.
So coaches are anxious to see how their lineups stack up and are already preparing themselves and their athletes for the MHSAA Upper Peninsula finals.
Munising No. 2 singles player Eve Gendron hits her serve during a high school girls tennis match against Negaunee’s Allison Carlson at the Miners’ courts on Monday afternoon. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
"Right now, we just want to get better each day," Negaunee coach Kyle Saari said after the Miners defeated Munising 7-1 at the Miners' courts on Monday afternoon to improve to 1-0-1.
"We want to get in the best position for the U.P. finals."
Some of his players agree.
"My biggest goal is to win a U.P. title," said Negaunee senior Kayla Hakala, who plays at No. 3 singles. She defeated Munising senior Emily DesJardins 6-2, 6-4 on Monday.
That exact sentiment was echoed by several other Miners players, including No. 1 singles player and junior Abbi Kill and No. 2 singles player and sophomore Allison Carlson.
"This year we have a lot of depth, so I think coach is still trying to figure out our lineup," Hakala said.
She and Saari mentioned that Monday started a string of five meets in six days, culminating Saturday at the Kingsford Invitational where some players will have multiple matches.
"Our only off-day this week is Thursday, but the benefit of a busy week is that you get quite a bit better in a short time," Saari said. "The best way to improve, as far as I'm concerned, is to play matches. You can run drills and hit the same forehand 75 times, but you don't know how well you'll perform under pressure until you get into a match."
Negaunee plays at Gwinn at 11 a.m. today, then goes to Westwood on Wednesday and to West Iron County on Friday before Saturday's tourney.
Munising has already gone through a tough stretch with the season less than a week old, playing against Kingsford, Iron Mountain and Menominee late last week and now standing at 0-4.
"That makes it a tough start to our season, playing all these Division 1 schools," Mustangs coach Rod Gendron said. "They have that extra comfort level of playing at home where they're used to everything."
It's a perennial problem for Munising, which only has two playable courts and is forced to play all its meets on the road.
"And we're the smallest school in the U.P. playing tennis," the coach said.
The brightest spot so far for Munising is the No. 1 doubles tandem of seniors Sheena Sowa and Megan McLaren, who are now 2-2 after picking up their team's lone win Monday, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 over Negaunee's Mandi Grasso and Ashley Anderson.
"We complement each other, because she's good with the forehand and I'm better with my backhand," Sowa said. "We know each other pretty well and we're friends in school, too."
McLaren has goals similar to Negaunee's best players.
"We want to have a winning record and try to win a U.P. title," she said as they played together last year at No. 2 doubles.
"We have to keep reminding ourselves that we're good enough to play against these No. 1s."
"We're pretty excited about how they're doing already," Gendron said. "They've got the potential to be great players."
Despite the lopsided final score, the meet also marked a red-letter day for Kill.
"I've never beaten her before," she said in reference to her 6-2, 7-5 victory over Munising senior Jenna Hach. Both players were at No. 2 singles last season, so they've seen each other a number of times.
"She didn't play really too great in the first set, but once that was over, she seemed to just reset and started over like it was 0-0.
"It was a tough second set."
"Abbi was down 5-4 in that second set and came back to win the last three games," he said. "Anyone who plays at No. 1 has to have that breakthrough match to give you confidence that you can play at that level.
"She just stays level-headed and doesn't let anything get to her."
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.