Prep tennis: Defending U.P. champs Westwood, Negaunee open season

NEGAUNEE – Neither team worried about facing what might be its toughest opponent in the opening match of the season, even though practice kicked off just seven days earlier.

Negaunee put an early stamp on the Mid-Peninsula Conference, if not the entire Upper Peninsula, with a 6-2 high school girls tennis victory over visiting Westwood on Wednesday afternoon.

The Miners shared the MHSAA U.P. Division 1 title last fall with Kingsford, while the Patriots were outright winners of the Division 2 crown.

“No, I didn’t even realize we both won it last year,” said Negaunee No. 1 singles player Allison Carlson, who led the Miners to a sweep of singles.

The junior’s victory was a 6-1, 6-2 win over Westwood’s Caitlin Hewitt.

“We wanted to start with someone that was a quality team,” said NHS coach Kyle Saari.

“I knew with three of our four singles players back, and the fourth just waiting in the wings for her chance to play, that we have one side that can shoulder the load.

“It’s pretty much now how good our doubles will be.”

Carlson, No. 2 Abbi Kill and No. 4 Dana DeBretto all return to the Miners singles lineup, though Carlson and Kill have switched positions, while No. 3 Angie Ring is getting her first extended chance to play at the varsity level.

“I just try to keep calm and not think about it too much,” Ring said after a 6-1, 7-5 win over the Pats’ Courtney Beauchamp.

Westwood coach Chris Jackson has some similar sentiments to Saari.

“Negaunee is strong at singles, so that definitely gives our kids something to work for,” he said. “It’s good to find out what you need to work on.”

Both teams have rosters that would make many a football coach envious, as Negaunee boasts 30 players and Westwood 27.

“But we lost everybody at the top,” Jackson said. “So there’s a lot of repositioning going on in our lineup.”

The Patriots got their victories at No. 3 and 4 doubles, with the No. 3 duo of Lacey Pietro and Olivia Derocha taking out Negaunee’s Elly Kantola and Lauren Anderson, 6-3, 7-5.

“Good net play,” both Westwood players answered in nearly perfect unison when asked what the key to that match was.

“We complement each other, too,” Pietro added, saying that Derocha is the strongest at the net while she does her best work along the baseline.

Two doubles matches went to third-set pro-style tiebreakers, with Westwood’s No. 4 pair of Bridget Wood and Jamee Ferris defeating April Walimaa and Anja Turecky, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 10-6.

At No. 1, the Miners’ Jessa Johnson and Amanda Washnock came back from a set down and trailing 5-2 in the second set to record a 3-6, 7-6 (12-10), 13-11 win over Katie Rankinen and Gabby Hebert.

“There was one game we won in the second set, then it seemed to be contagious,” said Johnson, who played with Washnock last year at No. 2 doubles. “We dug deep. We feed off each other’s good hits.”