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Jason Schmitt is the editor of, the high school sports website for The Oakland Press. He has served as the sports editor for a number of newspapers, including the Daily Tribune in Royal Oak and the Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens. In his time in the industry, he has covered every high school sport and has served a a beat writer for boys and girls soccer, boys and girls tennis, hockey, wrestling, bowling and cross country.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Simply the best tennis around

It's been almost a week since the MHSAA tennis finals wrapped up, but it still amazes me at the amount of talent that pours out of Oakland County.
As if winning two team state championships (out of four divisions) wasn't enough, three more county teams finished runner-up. And three of the top four teams in Division 2 - and four of the top seven - resided from the county.

Let's recap just how dominant this county was this past weekend:

In Division 1, Clarkston won it's first-ever team state title, beating out perennial contender Ann Arbor Pioneer behind the strength of its singles lineup. Gabriella Spindler was a semifinalist at No. 1 singles, while Lexi Baylis, Katie Brozovich and Kristina Lucas were nearly flawless in capturing state championships at Nos. 2-3-4 singles. It was pretty evident early on in the season that this was a special group. They lost a combined four matches this season (Baylis and Brozovich were unbeaten).
Also in Division 1, Rochester senior Kelsey Dieters capped off a stellar career by winning the No. 1 singles championship, defeating L'Anse Creuse's Alix Thurman in three sets in the final. Dieters, who will be playing at Ohio State next year, finished her career with a pair of state titles and four semifinal appearances - all at No. 1 singles. She ended with a 107-5 career record. She was our latest Athlete of the Week.
Clarkston finished with 27 points, followed closely by Pioneer (25). Midland Dow was third with 21 points. Other Oakland County teams included Rochester and Troy (tied for 9th with 10 points) and Novi, which finished 11th overall with nine points. Along with Dieters, Rochester also had a doubles team (No. 4 Stephanie Handley and Stephanie Von Behren) reach Saturday's semifinals. They lost to eventual champion Ann Arbor Pioneer, which knocked off Novi's second-seeded tandem of Meng Meng Jie and Amy Zhou in the final.

In Division 2, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern won its fifth-straight state championship, dominating the doubles competitions. The Huskies' 33 points were enough to easily outdistance runner-up Birmingham Seaholm (26). Birmingham Marian and Bloomfield Hills Andover were third and fourth overall, scoring 23 and 22 points.
GRFHN was the No. 1 team in the state this year, and earned several top seeds at the finals, which were played at Jenison High School. That played into its favor, as Seaholm, Marian and Andover were forced to beat each other up on the opposite half of the draw at several flights. Divvying up all those points allowed the Huskies to pull away.
Marian's Elaine Apaza (No. 3 singles) and Seaholm's Lauren Frazier (No. 4 singles) were the county's state champions. Both are underclassmen (Frazier just a freshman) and will be back next season. In fact, things are looking very bright for both the Maples and Mustangs next year. Both teams return all their singles lineup, and each return five of their eight starters in doubles.
Andover is in the same boat, as its 1-2-3 singles were all freshmen, and their No. 4 just a sophomore. They, too, lose just three of their doubles starters. All three schools will attempt to knock GRFHN from its perch atop the division.

In Division 3, it was really just a two-team battle, as expected. Cranbrook beat Country Day twice this season, 5-3 during the regular season and again at the regional tournament. But both times, just a single match separated the two teams.
The Yellowjackets closed the gap a bit in doubles, as the No. 2 team of  Nadia Alhadi and Sara Shea
beat Cranbrook's top-seeded team in straight sets. The Cranes did flex their muscles in doubles, as the No. 1 team of Natasha Dabrowski and Samantha Bowers won a championship. They added two more, as the No. 2 team of Rachel Hubers and Alissa Rowens and the No. 4 duo of Claire Huttenlocher and Maria Landi also brought home titles.
What may have made the biggest difference in the Cranes' one-point win over the Yellowjackets were some key matches in singles. Freshman Alexandria Najarian put together a tremendous run to the No. 1 singles title. She lost just eight games in four matches, knocking off a very good Andrea Rivera of Country Day in the semifinal before cruising by the No. 1 seed, Molly Wickman of East Grand Rapids, in the championship match.
Najarian's victory proved to be a two-point swing over Country Day, and at No. 2 singles, an unseeded Kendra Sweet reached the semifinal for the Cranes, scoring some unexpected points.

And over in Division 4, at Holly, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart had its best performance ever, finishing runner-up to Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian. Hannah Gerard and Mary Liesveld led the way for the Gazelles, winning the championship at No. 2 doubles.
The No. 3 team of Hannah Forte and Elia Wilson made it all the way to the final before falling to Williamston. Three other flights reach the semifinals for Sacred Heart.
Probably the most promising thing for the Gazelles is that they return 11 of 12 starters next season. NorthPointe loses all but one starter, and fourth-place Kalamazoo Christian loses half of its lineup. Third-place Monroe St. Mary's Catholic Central will return most of its lineup. So it looks like it could be a two-team battle for the state title in 2012.


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