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End of Negaunee Miners’ era of U.P. girls tennis championships: Marquette glides to U.P. Division 1 tennis title past 5-time champs

Marquette’s Elysa Olivier readies to play a point in a No. 1 singles match during the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals in girls tennis held at Negaunee High School on Wednesday. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

“You never know who’s going to win. A couple of bounces here and there is all it takes.” — Derek Sandstrom, head coach, Marquette girls tennis

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NEGAUNEE — All good things must come to an end.

After a five-year run as MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 champions, the Negaunee High School varsity girls tennis team was dethroned by Marquette on Wednesday afternoon at this year’s U.P. Finals held at the Negaunee Tennis Complex.

The Redettes claimed the team title for the first time since 2005, earning 17 points to the Miners’ 10. Menominee was third with seven points while Kingsford and Escanaba each had six and Gladstone three.

Marquette advanced to six of the eight championship matches, including all four singles flights, while the Miners advanced to three. The Maroons also competed in three finals, while the Flivvers made it to two title matches and Braves and Eskymos to one each.

It was a long time coming for MSHS as head coach Derek Sandstrom has seen many athletes come through the program over the years who came up just a little bit short.

“It’s been a while, it’s been a long time,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of great girls along the way who didn’t get to this point, but I don’t want to belittle them at all.

“We’ve had some great tennis players and great kids come through this program. This group is just the one that brought home a trophy.”

Marquette had two losses in dual meets all season, both to the Miners. Those meets were close ones, though, and Sandstrom knew that things could’ve gone either way on Wednesday.

“In girls tennis, (Negaunee head coach) Kyle (Saari) would say the same thing, you never know who’s going to win,” Sandstrom said. “A couple of bounces here and there is all it takes.

“We played tough with Negaunee during the regular season. I told the girls, the last meet we played them, they won the match score but if you look at the actual scorecard, each team won 10. We were there, we just had to do something to get over the hump. Individually, some of the girls found their way.”

The Redettes claimed four titles, two each in singles and doubles.

At No. 1 singles, Elysa Olivier topped Menominee’s Jenna Nolde to cap an undefeated senior season and earn the third individual title of her high school career.

“I just tried to focus and have fun,” Olivier said. “We played earlier in the season and I beat (Nolde) 6-0, 6-4 that time. She’s a very good player.”

Piercing cold weather with temperatures in the 40s didn’t affect Olivier, who topped Nolde in two sets again, 6-0, 6-2.

“I actually prefer playing in the cold rather than the sun,” Olivier said. “I don’t really like serving into the sun. I don’t think (cold) really affects you at all, you just need to conserve your energy.”

Olivier will look to join her older brother Alec playing tennis at Ferris State University next season.

The Redettes’ other singles win came at No. 2 with fellow senior Mollie Kilpela topping Menominee’s Josie Hofer, 7-6, 7-6.

Marquette also claimed Nos. 3 and 4 doubles, with the No. 3 team of Zoey Brian and Ruth Hummell topping Esky’s Maddy Michica and Gracie Wickham 6-4, 6-4, while No. 4 Julianna Golisek and Alyson LaBelle defeated Kingsford’s Liz Penegor and Jenna Olkkonen 6-0, 6-0.

Sandstrom was pleased with his team’s performance, and said this is only a small chapter in their lives ahead.

“The girls played well,” he said. “We had some ups and downs throughout the year. Elyssa and Mollie, they were the rudder of the ship and we just followed their lead. We finally kept up with them all the way to the end of the year.

“I’m really proud of the girls. It’s just a really cool group of kids.

“None of them are peaking at high school. They’re all going to go on to bigger and better things, and this is something they’ll remember when they come back for their 10-year class reunion and stuff like that.”

It was the end of a half-decade run for Negaunee, but the Miners still had a strong day, winning three matches.

Lexi Mason defeated Marquette’s Campbell Kallio at No. 3 singles in two sets, 6-3, 7-5. NHS also claimed the top two doubles flights, with the No. 1 team of Morgan Carlson and Katelyn Lammi topping Menominee’s Megan Francour and Emma Anderson 6-2, 6-1, and the No. 2 team of Shaylee Menhennick and Tianna Williams edging Gladstone’s Emily Marenger and Emma DeLaire 6-3, 6-2.

Saari said it was a year of exciting challenges for his team, and he was proud of the way his players battled throughout.

“I was very pleased with the way we ended up going through the regular season with a team that was kind of learning on the go and learning as we kind of transitioned,” he said. “I’m proud of our girls in that regard.

“What happens sometimes when you enter those tournament situations at the end of the year, sometimes that becomes the time where girls don’t really know what to expect.

“A lot of girls that will return next year, I think they’ve learned a lot from the conference and U.P. tournaments in terms of preparation and how to handle a match day and things like that. That’ll be good for us moving forward.”

Saari credited his three individual champions as well as the Redettes for putting out strong finals performances.

“At No. 1, Morgan and Katelyn have been super consistent all year long. They’re good friends, they’re both good athletes and their games have complemented each other well. They’ve been good leaders for our team as a whole and the way that they practice, the way that they support the other girls, it’s good to see them rewarded.

“Lexi at No. 3 singles put together a really solid year. She got better each time out and was definitely deserving of that No. 3 singles championship.

The only final that didn’t go to the Miners or Redettes was No. 4 singles, which saw Kingsford’s Lizzy Cross defeat Marquette’s Haddie Ketzenberger 6-3, 6-2.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.