Eight is just great: Negaunee Miners boys tennis team keeps up winning ways for 8th straight year at Mid-Peninsula Conference meet

Negaunee’s Chas Kumpula returns the ball against Gladstone’s Danny Pederson in the No. 2 singles championship match during the Mid-Peninsula Conference meet held Wednesday afternoon at Negaunee High School. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

NEGAUNEE — The sun was shining brightly Wednesday afternoon as it baked the tennis courts at Negaunee and Westwood high schools.

However, the heat didn’t seem to bother the Miners boys team at all as they extended their dynasty in the Mid-Peninsula Conference.

For the eighth straight season, the Miners won the M-PC title and did it in fairly convincing fashion earning 46 points, a baker’s dozen ahead of runner-up Westwood’s 33. The Miners swept to championships in all four singles flights along with three of the four doubles in a performance that pleased head coach Kyle Saari.

However, he said that although they’re happy with another M-PC title, the focus is now on the Upper Peninsula Finals.

“Our message hasn’t changed over the years,” Saari said. “We’re proud of our streak we’ve been able to put together in the conference with eight straight, but after this is over, immediately tomorrow, our sights will shift to U.P.’s.

Westwood’s Zach Niemi readies for a return in the No. 2 doubles championship match against Negaunee during the Mid-Peninsula Conference meet Wednesday afternoon at Negaunee High School. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

“We’re getting close to playing our best, but there are areas that we need to improve on and hopefully that will be enough on the final day. There’s going to be a lot of tough competition and we have to make sure that we’re mentally tough enough to respond to those situations.”

Westwood had a successful day and had a finalist in almost every final, but it just couldn’t get past the Miners.

Still, Patriots head coach Chris Jackson liked how his team performed with the finals coming up next week, especially with Negaunee moving onto the Division 1 finals and Westwood going to Division 2.

“I feel like we’re playing well,” he said. “Negaunee has proven that it is the best team in the U.P. this year and they proved it again today.

“I thought what really hurt us was we had a couple of first-round matches and with the heat that we had today, there wasn’t much left in the tank in the finals. I like where our team is. We’re playing with confidence and hopefully, we can give ourselves a chance next week.”

Gladstone and Ishpeming tied for a distant third place with 12 points apiece, while Iron Mountain was fifth with 9 points and Gwinn was sixth with 8.

In the No. 1 singles final, Negaunee’s Luke Skewis emerged with a hard-fought two-set victory over Westwood’s Adam Hyttinen, 6-3, 6-4. Saari said that Skewis’ abilities have improved and that he’s starting be more confident on the court.

“Luke has continued to get better as the year went on and his confidence has grown a lot in the last week or two,” Saari said. “When your confidence grows, you can start hitting the ball with more pace and pacing your shots a lot more. He did that well today, both in the semifinal and the final.”

Jackson praised Hyttinen for his progression as a player and that sometimes he has to remind himself just how far Hyttinen has come.

“Adam has improved constantly,” Jackson said. “I have to tell myself that he played No. 3 singles last year and the year before. There are some things about No. 1 singles and you have to be able to make your calls and you’ve got to be able to hit one more shot.

“You also have to teach yourself that when you have control of the point that you maintain control. He’s gotten better every time.”

At No. 2 singles, the Miners’ Chas Kumpula came out on top over Gladstone’s Danny Pederson, 7-5, 6-0. Kumpula had a tough first set, but easily took the second.

“Chas has done a great job stepping in to No. 2 after playing No. 4 last year,” Saari said. “He grew a lot, too, over the offseason and he’s somebody who knows how to use his length and athleticism. So he had a nice day.”

At No. 3 singles, Tom Sertich took the crown for Negaunee as he dispatched the Patriots’ Chad Pohlman in two sets 6-0, 6-0.

“Tom has quite a streak right now just in terms of total games won,” Saari said. “Consistency is the right word. That’s really the main part of his game. He keeps the ball in court and hits good angles and just finds a way to frustrate his opponent.”

At No. 4, Negaunee’s Will Luke took down Westwood’s Matt Paavo in two sets, 6-2, 6-3.

Jackson said even though the Patriots didn’t win any singles titles, he felt that they accomplished a lot in the heat.

“Our whole singles lineup impressed me, not to take anything away from our doubles lineup,” he said. “I give anybody who played singles credit. It was difficult conditions, especially for the ones that had to play three times.”

In doubles, the Miners took the top flights fairly easily with the pairings of Jakson Sager and Drew Lindberg at No. 1 and Peyton Anderson and Jake Larson at No. 2.

But No. 3 doubles proved much tougher as Negaunee’s Ander Sorenson and Masson Hemmila emerged with a three-set win over Westwood’s Connor Traver and Hudson Uren, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.

“I’m proud of our doubles,” Saari said. “One of our biggest emphasis is to finish balls at the net and get points early. All the way across the board from No. 1 through 4, we’ve been able to do that.”

The Miners’ only finals loss came at No. 4 doubles where the Patriots tandem of Nathan Ostlund and Jack Mattias outlasted Negaunee’s Evan Hassell and Tom Kinjorski, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6.

Gwinn finished at the bottom overall, but the Modeltowners’ Austin Forbes was third at No. 3 singles and Jared Rowland got fourth at No. 2.

Even though the Modeltowners didn’t have any champions, head coach Dan Turecky was happy with how things went at the meet, especially since his squad had been battling numbers issues all season.

“My boys played really well,” he said. “We won a couple of medals, so they really came through. We were a bit shorthanded this year, but my singles really played very well today.”

U.P. finals are scheduled for Wednesday, Division 1 in Kingsford and Division 2 that will also include Ishpeming and Gwinn at Westwood.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.