KINGSFORD - It was a true test of depth, mental toughness and endurance Wednesday at the MHSAA Division 1 Upper Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals at Kingsford High School.
The Negaunee Miners proved, by a slim margin, to have just enough of each to reclaim their foothold as U.P. champions.
Negaunee won with 15 points followed by Menominee 12, Kingsford and Marquette 11, Escanaba 2 and Gladstone 1. The four-team battle that ensued throughout the day made for one of the more enticing finals events in recent history. With four flights left to go, all four teams still had a legitimate shot at the title. Coming down to the final two flights of the tournament, the title was still up for grabs between Negaunee and Menominee.
Negaunee’s Ryan Syrjala battles Escanaba’s Steve Wood in a No. 2 singles semifinal during Wednesday’s MHSAA U.P. Division 1 Boys Tennis Championships at Kingsford High School. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Ron Deuter)
The Maroons needed to win No. 3 doubles. Menominee was denied thanks to a thrilling comeback by Negaunee's Anthony Moyle and Rob Loy. After dropping the first set to Menominee's Aaron Maas and Adam Nolde 6-2, the Negaunee teammates found themselves down 5-0 in the second set, before rallying back to win 7-5 and force a third set, which they won 6-4.
"It's unbelievable. It was an amazing comeback," said Loy after securing the U.P. title for his team.
For Loy, the victory was also about validation. The junior didn't play last season and had some decision making to do before he came back this year.
MHSAA U.P. Division 1 Finals
Team scores: Negaunee 15; Menominee 12; Kingsford 11; Marquette 11; Escanaba 2; Gladstone 1.
SINGLES - No. 1. Adam Szabo (Kingsford) def. Josh Downs (Marquette) 6-0, 6-1; No. 2. Ryan Syrjala (Negaunee) def. Matt Collins (Marquette) 6-3, 6-1; No. 3. Chris Roell (Kingsford) def. Noah Gannon (Marquette) 6-3, 3-6, 6-4; No. 4. Ben Luke (Negaunee) def. Justin Flood (Marquette) 7-6(6), 6-2.
DOUBLES - No. 1. Dan Harrington-Joe Gregory (Kingsford) def. Ryan Woods-Caleb Kleiman (Menominee) 6-3, 6-1; No. 2. Stephen Trawick-Alex Roth (Negaunee) def. Chad Schuecke-Nathan Gunderson (Menominee) 7-6(4), 6-4; No. 3. Anthony Moyle-Rob Loy (Negaunee) def. Aaron Maas-Adam Nolde (Menominee) 2-6, 7-5, 6-4; No. 4. Nick Cattani-Colin Merat (Menominee) def. Peter Fornetti-Kevin LeClaire (Kingsford) 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.
"I'm really happy he decided to come back," said Loy's teammate, Moyle. "We won, and it's definitely a good feeling."
The pressure of it all coming down to their match in addition to needing to rally back from a 5-0 hole did wear on the teammates, they acknowledged.
"It was nervewracking at first," Loy said. "You kind of lost your head. It's tough coming back from being down 5-0."
"It's pretty hard," said Moyle, agreeing with his teammate. "Tennis is probably one of the biggest mind games compared to other sports you play. There's ups and downs everywhere. I'm glad we came out on top."
Negaunee's Ben Luke at No. 4 singles was still in the midst of his match with Marquette's Justin Flood when the celebration ensued. Soon after Loy and Moyle's victory, Luke got his as well, winning 7-6 (6), 6-2. Though the pressure was off, he said he kept his composure.
"I was just excited to see that we won, but I was focused on finishing my own match and getting it done," Luke said.
Miners coach Kyle Saari praised his team for their mental toughness, which he said guided his team to their fourth Division 1 title in five years.
"We had kids come through in tough situations mentally," Saari said. "Ben Luke beat two kids he hadn't beat all year today, and we had that happen in a few flights. We talk about peaking at the end of the year, and that's what we were able to do, so I'm proud of them."
Kingsford's Adam Szabo at No. 1 singles had perhaps the most dominant performance of the day, defeating Marquette's Josh Downs in the final 6-0, 6-1. The Flivvers also scored a win at No. 3 singles where Chris Roell defeated his season-long nemesis Noah Gannon of Marquette 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. The rivals played three three-set matches this season, all very close.
"I have to give Chris Roell a lot of credit," Marquette coach Chris Drury said. "Noah has had a heck of a season. He's been on the top side of Chris throughout the season. They played right down to the wire."