Cranbrook's Alexandria Najarian capped off a third straight undefeated season with a win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Sydney Liggens at the Division 3 finals earlier this month. (The Oakland Press file photo).
Tennis - Girls
ALL-COUNTY TENNIS: Once again, Oakland County's best girls rise to the top
Lahser junior Mollie Fox finished the season 25-2, winning her first state championship at the Division 2 finals in Grand Blanc. (The Oakland Press file photo)
North Farmington's Sarah Tobin (left) and Maria Vicini were dominant in the OAA White this season. (The Oakland Press file photo)
West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy senior Alex D'Ascenzo did not have a lot of opportunities this season — including a shot to compete at the regional tournament — but was unbeaten on the season and beat West Bloomfield's Raven Neely in two, tight sets. (Photo contributed)
Each year there is a best way to show just how dominant Oakland County tennis is … just start throwing out numbers.
For a second straight year, three Oakland County teams (Birmingham Marian, Cranbrook and Academy of the Sacred Heart) captured team state championships. And also for a second straight year, the county also had a state runner-up in the other division (Mercy).
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Ten local teams finished among the top-10 in their respective divisions. There were 20 flight championships — out of a possible 32 — won by county teams. That’s the most since the turn of the century. Thirteen more finished runner-up.
Cranbrook proved to be the best of the best, nearly pulling off a sweep at the Division 3 finals. Led by three-time unbeaten state champion Alex Najarian, the Cranes finished undefeated and captured their third straight team state championship.
Marian came out of seemingly nowhere to cruise to the Division 2 state title. The Mustangs won two flight championships and had two more runners-up to fend off 2012 state champion Birmingham Seaholm.
Over in Division 4, Sacred Heart played the favorite card perfectly, riding its No. 1 ranking from the beginning of the season through the finals, where it won its second straight state title. The Gazelles won five flight championships, including all four doubles.
And in Division 1, Farmington Hills Mercy flew under the radar, using a balanced lineup which peaked at just the right time, helping the Marlins to a runner-up finish at the finals in Midland.
All those great performances were spearheaded by great performers, many of which are a part of this year’s all-county girls’ tennis team. Here’s a look at the best of the best for 2013:
Lexi Baylis (Jr.), Clarkston — After winning a pair of 2-singles state championships, Baylis stepped up to the plate this year and proved she was among the best players in the state at No. 1. The junior finished 29-3 overall, winning Pioneer Open, Holly Volley Swingabout, Holly Red, White & Blue, OAA Red and regional championships along the way.
Baylis advanced all the way to the state championship match, defeating unbeaten defending state champion Davina Nguyen of Utica along the way. She also committed to Michigan State during the season.
“Lexi is the role model every coach wishes for,” Clarkston coach Becky Freeman said. “She is not only an excellent tennis player but an even better person. She is dedicated, serious, yet fun and well rounded.”
Alex D’Ascenzo (Sr.), Frankel Jewish Academy — Her resume may seem a bit incomplete, but through no fault of her own. The Jewish Academy doesn’t have the competitive schedule most other schools have, and the team was unable to compete in the state tournament. But no one can deny D’Ascenzo’s talent, which has landed her a scholarship at Cornell next year. Her signature win this season came against West Bloomfield’s Raven Neely, 6-3, 6-4. She finished 8-0.
“She was definitely one of the players that people came out to see,” Jewish Academy coach Kyle Henry said. “Her teammates looked up to her in more ways than one and she definitely made a positive impact on the FJA tennis family.”
Mollie Fox (Jr.), Bloomfield Hills Lahser — There were many highs for Fox this season. But none were greater than her win over Sara Remynse of Gull Lake in the No. 1 singles championship match at the Division 2 state finals earlier this month.
Fox — 25-2 overall this season — also won the Forest Hills Northern, Lahser and Okemos quads and captured a regional championship. She was runner-up to Baylis in the OAA Red.
“The girls got a lot out of her just by watching her, how she goes about her matches” Lahser coach Chris Dobson said about Fox, a junior captain. “She sets a high standard. She took that role really, really serious. She’s not one of the biggest girls, but she’s extremely fit. That allows her to play in hot conditions, long conditions, in long matches. She’s got a lot of energy. She’s a very, very aggressive player. She’s an all-court player. When she’s on, it really pays off, like it did in the final.”
Halle Hyman (So.), Rochester Adams — The Highlanders stepped up to the OAA Red this season. Fortunately they had Halle to ease that transition. The Sophomore finished 14-5, with those losses coming to some of the best players in the state (Lexi Baylis, Mollie Fox twice, Raven Neely among them). She won the Troy and the Romeo invitationals.
“We stepped up a division and she had to elevate her play from last year. The competition was much tougher day in and day out, but she brought a high level of intensity and energy to the court,” Adams coach Greg Burks said. “Halle has that ability to step up her game when she needs it and had a solid season.”
Alexandria Najarian (Jr.), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood — A year ago it was injuries that limited Najarian’s time on the court. This spring, it was the weather. Regardless, no player in the state could limit Najarian’s accolades on the court. For the third straight season, the Crane junior capped off her season as an undefeated state champion.
Najarian finished 18-0. She lost just six games en route to the state championship in Holland.
“When Alex goes out on the court, even to practice every day, she goes out there so intense,” Cranbrook coach Jeff Etterbeek said. “It’s contagious to everybody else. She knows how to transcend that confidence to everyone else on that team. Alex doesn’t miss practice. She’s really taken the responsibility of being on this team seriously. She’s the heart and soul of this team and she takes on this responsibility to heart. She really does.”
Raven Neely (Fr.), West Bloomfield — Neely certainly did not play like a freshman. She integrated herself just fine in the ultra-competitive OAA Red this season. Neely won the University of Liggett and Ann Arbor Huron tournaments and was a regional finalist. She finished with a 22-6 record this season. Five of her six losses came to other players on this team.
“She had an outstanding freshman year,” West Bloomfield coach Dennis Royal said. “I think she’ll be one of the ones to beat in the up-and-coming years.”
Labina Petrovska (Jr.), Birmingham Seaholm — Slid up to No. 1 singles for the Maples this season and competed with — and beat — some of the best players in the state. Petrovska finished 18-6 overall this season. She was a regional champion and was a 3-seed at the Division 2 state finals.
“To her work ethic — it was exemplary in nature. Labina adds intensity and a skill set that makes for a formidable combination that has empowered her to attain the considerable success she has enjoyed,” said her coach, Scott Ransome.
Anna Short (Fr.), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood — With Anna Short and fellow freshman Allison Motea playing behind Najarian at No. 1, the Cranes had the best 1-2-3 combination in the state, bar none. Short finished the season 16-0, capping it off with a regional championship and a run to the No. 2 singles state title in Division 3.
“I felt we had three Nos. 1 playing for us this year,” Etterbeek said. “Any one of those girls would have played No. 1 on most any other team in the state. I can’t think of many other No. 1 players that can beat Anna. Her game’s as big as anybody’s. She’s a hard-working girl. She probably practices more than anyone on the team. On and off the court she was a genuine team player.”
Nancy Benda (Sr.)-Jackie Meier (Jr.), Birmingham Seaholm — To see where this duo belonged in the doubles landscape, one only need to know how they fared against the other top doubles teams on this year’s all-county team. Benda and Meier lost just three matches this season — all to Clarkston’s Paige Olsen and Alex Whall. They lost just four other sets all year — three of them coming to Marian and Troy.
They were 21-3 together, with their season culminating in a state championship at the Division 2 finals in Grand Blanc. The pair won a regional title and was runner-up at the Holly Volley Swingabout, as well as in the OAA Red. They won a regional championship.
“It was a fun and rewarding culmination of a season where the girls grew with each other and effectively deployed experience and firepower as a singular team,” Ransome said.
Alissa Rowens (Sr.)-Meg Phyle (So.), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood — The pair had just three losses this season — Clarkston, Country Day and Allegan —with the last coming in the No. 1 doubles state championship match in Division 3. Rowens and Phyle finished the season 16-3.
“Alissa was a state champion at 2-doubles two years ago, so she was a natural fit to put at the top doubles position. And Meg was a state champion at 1-doubles (last year),” Etterbeek said. “They were a very good pairing for us. They’re both vicious competitors and showed improvement throughout the year. It’s going to be great having Meg back next year. They had a great time together. They meshed very well together.”
Paige Olsen (Jr.)-Alex Whall (Fr.), Clarkston — Despite the way the season ended — with a loss in the championship match at states — Olsen and Whall proved all season long that they were the most formidable doubles team in the state. The pair finished with a 32-1 record.
Olsen and Whall won the Holly Red, White & Blue, Holly Quad and Holley Volley Swingabout tournaments, the Pioneer Open and the Huron Invitational, as well as the Mercy Midnight Madness Tournament. They were OAA Red and regional champions. They were unbeaten against every other Oakland County team.
“Paige is an awesome singles and doubles player who’s very respected by her teammates and coaches,” Freeman said. “Alex showed maturity beyond her years. She is a smart player with major skill and tenacity.”
Kalie Collins (Sr.)-Brittany Friesen (Sr.), Troy — The Colts had one of the toughest doubles lineups in the state this season, and Collins and Friesen anchored that unit. Collins returned to the flight from a year ago, while Friesen had to adjust in her first year at 1-doubles. After they got going, they continued to get better and better, according to coach Brian Miska.
They finished 19-7 with many of their losses coming to the state’s best. The co-captains finished runner-up at the Pioneer Invitational, third at the OAA Tournament and were regional champions. They went on to reach the state semifinals at the Division 1 tournament.
“These two were a special team,” Miska said. “They started off slow as Brittany began to learn doubles, but by the end of the season I would have put them up against anyone. Hand down, they showed the most fight I have ever had in a team.”
Coach of the Year
Lincoln Wirgau, Birmingham Marian — Expected to be a “contender” when the season began, Wirgau and assistant coach Ann Yochim quickly molded a team which had lost half its starting lineup into the state’s best. And that’s where the Mustangs finished this season, as Division 2 state champions.
All-County tennis teams
Lexi Baylis (Jr.), Clarkston
Alex D’Ascenzo (Sr.), Frankel Jewish Academy
Mollie Fox (Jr.), Bloomfield Hills Lahser
Halle Hyman (So.), Rochester Adams
Alexandria Najarian (Jr.), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
Raven Neely (Fr.), West Bloomfield
Labina Petrovska (Jr.), Birmingham Seaholm
Anna Short (Fr.), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
Nancy Benda (Sr.)-Jackie Meier (Jr.), Birmingham Seaholm
Alissa Rowens (Sr.)-Meg Phyle (So.), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
Paige Olsen (Jr.)-Alex Whall (Fr.), Clarkston
Kalie Collins (Sr.)-Brittany Friesen (Sr.), Troy
Kerry Hu (Jr.), Bloomfield Hills Andover
Winnie Karoub (So.), Farmington Hills Mercy
Allison Motea (Fr.), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
Aerielle Pendleton (Sr.), West Bloomfield
Dana Olsen (Jr.), Clarkston
Marina Selenica (So.), Birmingham Detroit Country Day
Isabella Spindler (Fr.), Clarkston
Elaine Apaza (Sr.), Birmingham Marian
Madelyn Karoub (Jr.), Birmingham Detroit Country Day
Sammy Bakken (Sr.)-Olivia Underwood (Sr.), Birmingham Marian
Jane Ziecik (Sr.)-Ellie Miller (Jr.), Birmingham Detroit Country Day
Kelsey Nagle (Sr.)-Emily Nash (Sr.), BH Academy of the Sacred Heart
Sarah Tobin (Sr.)-Maria Vicini (Sr.), North Farmington
Singles: Sarah Cahn, West Bloomfield; Sarah Carroll, Birmingham Detroit Country Day; Natalie Clink, Holly; Erin Day, Novi; Lauren Dietz, Birmingham Marian; Kathryn Dunleavy, Farmington Hills Mercy; Carmen Gaddis, Farmington Hills Harrison; Jessie Guindi, Farmington Hills Mercy; Amanda Guo, Troy; Katie Hubregsen, Clarkston; Lauren Hughes, Southfield; Mikayla Kazdan, Birmingham Groves; Tate Lehmann, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart; Sarah Lipworth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; Breann Lunghamer, Birmingham Marian; Claire Markley, Birmingham Seaholm; Haley Mullins, Birmingham Detroit Country Day; Tyler Papazian, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart; Meryl Reams, Bloomfield Hills Lahser; Kayla Stencel, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep; Iris Su, Troy Athens; Arti Vaishnav, North Farmington; Erin Weingarten, Bloomfield Hills Andover; Catherine Yaldoo, Birmingham Marian
Doubles: Tatyanna Dadabbo-Sally Thoresen, Birmingham Marian; Rachel Wilson-Laine Boitos, Birmingham Seaholm; Lauren Benderoff-Sam Lareau, Birmingham Seaholm; Charlotte Garrison-Maddy Lorenz, Bloomfield Hills Andover; Sarah Spangler-Heidi Lemon, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart; Kendall Lehmann-Hannah Gerard, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart; Elia Wilson-Gretchen Lemon, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart; Kendra Sweet-Christina Roualet, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; Briana Letica-Holly Meers, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; Lauren Lanzon-Emily Harvey, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; Anna Hinrichs-Mackenzie Zierau, Farmington Hills Mercy; Julie Flanagan-Sarah Hinrichs, Farmington Hills Mercy; Carley Postma-Sydney Renehan, Holly; Caitlin O’Brien-Amy Zhou, Novi; Annie Boniface-Julie Boniface, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep; Hope Keating-Claire Keating, Troy; Lillian Liang-Deepthi Devireddy, Troy; Gillian Meyers-Sammy Dean, West Bloomfield
Jason Schmitt covers girls tennis for The Oakland Press. Email him at email@example.com, read his "In The Zone" blog here and follow our high school tennis coverage on Twitter @JasonESchmitt.