ISHPEMING - Westwood put its emphatic stamp on an Upper Peninsula tennis championship Wednesday with a mixture of veteran and young players.
But runner-up Iron Mountain really showed where the fountain of youth is with its three freshman titlists at the MHSAA U.P. Division 2 girls finals.
Those two schools were the only ones to claim multiple champions at the meet headquartered at Westwood High School, but also held at courts in the cities of Ishpeming and Negaunee.
Westwood’s Sarah Massie volleys back to Munising’s Jenna Hach during a No. 1 singles semifinal match at the MHSAA U.P. Division 2 Finals at Westwood High School on Wednesday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
The Mountaineers and host Patriots were as even as is possible entering the championship round as each accumulated 12 points and had five entries in the eight flights of the championship round.
But Westwood took quick control, claiming the first three titles, all in doubles, to guarantee itself no worse than a tie, especially since two of those wins came over Iron Mountain opponents.
Patriots coach Chris Jackson had to wait about a half-hour after those matches were done for No. 4 singles player Courtney Beauchamp to earn a marathon 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory over IM's Emily Chang and clinch the U.P. championship outright with 16 points.
"We've been fortunate to win a lot of these titles," Jackson said, "and every one is special.
"But this one was different because we were a bit of an underdog. Our girls performed so well. We had a lot of people fight through adversity, like our No. 1 doubles team winning two three-setters today.
"Everyone contributed and every match is important because each one gets you a point in the standings. You never know which one is going to make the difference."
The seven Patriots who won those four individual U.P. titles consisted of three seniors and four sophomores, giving Jackson a good base to work upon for next season.
Beauchamp, the lone Westwood singles champ, is a sophomore, as is the No. 4 doubles combo of Rachel Anderson and Shana Caliguri. At No. 2 doubles was senior Taryn Moyle and sophomore Katie Rankinen, while at No. 1 doubles were seniors Kara Harrington and Alexis Forchini.
"It was an amazing feeling when we won that last point," said Anderson, who admitted she was "real hyper" during a 10-8 tiebreaker that ended their 6-3, 7-6 match against the Mountaineers' Allysa Hood and Caity Tefft.
Beauchamp was a JV player for the first five weeks of this season before some juggling of the lineup by Jackson gave her a shot with the varsity.
"The hardest match was my first one (on varsity)," she said. "I wanted to prove I should stay on the varsity."
Beauchamp said her strategy against Chang was to keep the ball in play for as long as possible, letting her opponent make the first mistake.
While IM couldn't find success in those early finals matches, coach Greg Stegall was gratified to end the day with two straight U.P. titles by a trio of freshmen to finish with 14 points.
Katie Brule earned the No. 2 singles championship by beating Eve Gendron of Munising, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, while twin sisters Kate and Emily Bugni held off the Mustangs' Sadie Cornish and Izzy Nebel, 6-3, 6-0.
"We have five awesome freshmen on this year's team," Stegall said. "These girls are all solid players and they have the potential to become some of the best tennis players to ever come out of Iron Mountain.
"We're glad we were in a position to win (the title) today. We're still young, and the girls were a little nervous."
The Bugni sisters said winning a match from fellow Mid-Peninsula Conference power Negaunee earlier in the season was a turning point for them.
"We were just trying to survive and stay on the varsity when we first started out," Kate Bugni said.
Trailing the leaders by three points and with three finalists, Munising had a chance to sneak into a tie for second place if it swept all its title matches.
But the Mustangs' only championship came at No. 3 singles, where senior Emily DesJardins held off Ishpeming's only finals entry, Jaime Olson, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
Munising finished third with 10 points.
"I still feel great about it," MHS coach Rod Gendron said. "This was an excellent day for Mustang tennis. We're way smaller than any other school here today, and the kids gave maximum effort.
"We don't have the facilities other schools do, not even for practice," he added, the reason why Munising plays all its matches on the road.
Led by a second straight No. 1 singles championship from senior Kylee Erickson, West Iron County scored five points to share fourth place with Ironwood.
Ishpeming was sixth with four points while Gwinn had one point.
"I had to play so tentative because my opponent uses a lot of top spin," Erickson said about her championship match against Westwood's Sarah Massie, which she won 6-2, 6-4.
"I know if I played against her last year, I would've never won, because I didn't have the finesse to balance my power game. But this year, I'm playing a lot more patiently."
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.