Negaunee Miners run off with 4th straight MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 girls tennis title

Negaunee No. 1 doubles player Mykenna Kontio hits the ball against Menominee in the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals girls tennis championship match on Wednesday in Kingsford. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Adam Niemi)

KINGSFORD — Negaunee didn’t have to save its best for last. The Miners girls tennis team played that way throughout the fall tennis season.

Winning six of the eight flights at Kingsford High School, Negaunee captured the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals team championship for the fourth consecutive year with 18 points. The Miners were followed by Marquette with 13 points, Escanaba 8, Menominee 6, Gladstone 4 and Kingsford 3.

“You always want to play your best in the U.P. Finals and putting six in the finals puts you into a pretty good position,” Negaunee coach Kyle Saari said. “Winning all six matches is a by-product of having some depth. We were pushed in some matches. It was good to see the girls respond under pressure.”

The Miners were led by their doubles contingent, which swept all four championships.

But two of the doubles finals went to three sets against Marquette opponents. Skylar Taavola and Lexi Taavola defeated Rachel Ely and Carly Sandstrom 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 at No. 2, while Faith Toutant and Jillian Skewis outlasted Sydney Kivi and Campbell Kallio 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 at No. 4.

“Even though we lost the second set in each match, the girls showed some mental toughness by coming through,” Saari said. “They treated it like there was no pressure.”

The Miners also won at No. 1 doubles with Abby Nelson and Mykenna Kontio, who held off Menominee’s Ely Wellner and Kendell Klatt 6-4, 7-5 in the championship, and at No. 3 doubles, with Alexis Hill and Kalli Mattson taking down Kingsford’s Sarah Premo and Grace Lorenzoni 6-0, 7-5 in their finals.

Singles champions for Negaunee came at No. 3, with Lexi Peterson defeating Menominee’s Jenna Nolde 7-5, 6-1 in the finals, and No. 4, when Maci Aho triumphed over Marquette’s Mollie Kilpela 6-2, 6-2 in the ultimate match.

Sophomore Elyse Olivier was Marquette’s champion at No. 2 singles, where she defeated Escanaba’s Megan Marenger 6-3, 6-0 in the finals.

Olivier grabbed a 4-0 lead in the first set before Marenger made things interesting by taking the next three points.

“She (Marenger) is a good player,” said Olivier, who went undefeated this year and was a U.P. runner-up a year ago. “She doesn’t give up and I think that helped her against Negaunee (in a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Jesse Sager).

“I kind of lost focus, then our coach (Derek Sandstrom) talked to me and helped settle me down. Our whole team is very supportive and my dad is my off-season coach. My older brother Alec (two-time U.P. champ) has also helped me out. I couldn’t have done this without them.”

Escanaba captured a title at No. 1 singles with senior Taylor Gauthier defeating the Redettes’ Hannah Swajanen 6-2, 6-0 in the finals.

Gauthier has played in the finals’ championship match all four years of her high school career and was a champion three times.

She made effective use of groundstrokes in a cross breeze on this partly sunny and seasonably cool day.

“The breeze presented a few challenges in the last set,” Gauthier said.

She reached the title match by defeating Negaunee senior Megan Syrjala 7-5, 6-2.

“I thought I played pretty well today and the semifinal match was the best I ever played,” Gauthier said. “I especially felt good about how I played in the second set against Megan and felt pretty confident going into the finals. I split with Hannah in the regular season and knew she had a real good shot. “

Syrjala has been part of the four most recent U.P. championships at Negaunee and helped the Miners complete a perfect season for the second straight time.

“To go undefeated two years in a row shows the depth of our team,” she said. “It just means so much to be part of four U.P. championship teams. A lot of it is mental toughness. Coach Saari does such a good job teaching us about mental toughness and none of this would be possible without God.”