Flivvers slip, but prevail

KINGSFORD – There were a pair of brief celebrations on the Kingsford High School tennis courts following Wednesday’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals.

The host Flivvers, who scored 18 points, were celebrating their team title.

And Escanaba was celebrating junior Olivia LaForest and sophomore Emily LaFave’s championship at No. 3 doubles, following their 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) conquest of Kingsford seniors Megan VanPembrook-Abby Johnson.

“A lot of it is we’re learning to relax and take it one point at a time,” said LaForest. “The will for us to win this after beating them in the GNC (Great Northern Conference) meet was huge. We kept telling each other and ourselves we could do it. This may be a game of physical challenge, but much of it is mental.”

LaFave had similar thoughts.

“We just wanted to be a little more patient,” she said. “We tried to let the game come to us. It’s really fun playing with Olivia. She keeps my spirits up when I’m down and I try to keep her spirits up when she’s down.”

Negaunee, which shared the title with Kingsford a year ago, was runner-up this time with 14 points. Third-place Esky had nine.

“The girls played hard all year,” said Esky coach Dennis Lueneburg. “My job as coach is to give them a few pointers to make their life easier on the court. We had a decent year. We had depth in a few flights. Only, we didn’t have enough overall depth to match Kingsford or Negaunee.”

The Eskymos also won No. 1 doubles where senior Shelby Gregoire and junior Olivia Berquist upended Kingsford seniors Anna Shanks-Kate Lamy 6-2, 6-1.

“We kept playing strong this year,” said Berquist, who teamed with Gregoire for the No. 4 doubles crown last season. “This is very different from No. 4 doubles because it’s a lot harder. The team we just played has been in No. 1 doubles since they were sophomores. We just found a way to push through it.”

This marked the first time in five meetings this year the Berquist-Lamy duo had beaten Shanks and Lamy, who were 15-0 coming into Wednesday..

“We went three sets with them in the GNC meet (on Sept. 25),” said Gregoire. “The first time we played them, they blew us out of the water. Since then, we had gotten a little closer each time. The momentum we gained from winning the first set was huge. This is the best way to end my senior year, for sure.”

Lueneburg was impressed with the performace by Esky’s winning doubles teams.

“That was the biggest accomplishment this year,” he said. “When they jump from No. 4 to No. 1, you expect them to be respectable. But Shelby and Olivia (Berquist) were certainly more than respectable. We changed their strategy in mid-season and that’s when things started to work. I think it got them some confidence. And for Olivia LaForest and Emily LaFave to come in here and beat a good doubles team from Kingsford for the title is incredible.”

Kingsford reached the finals in all eight flights, but won only two.

“It was kind of bittersweet,” said Kingsford coach Mark Shanks. “None of our eight seniors won their flights. My daughter’s No. 1 doubles (seniors Anna Shanks and Kate Lamy) and No. 3 singles (senior Santina Bianco) went down today. This was the first loss in more than two years for Santina. Although, our three juniors won.

“We talked all week since the GNC meet how the U.P. Finals would be a different situation with single elimination. Had any of our kids lost in the semifinals, it would have meant no points in that flight. Our biggest challenge was getting to the finals without zeros. That assured us of scoring at least 16 points.”

Gladstone reached the semifinals in two flights. Junior Lauren Parrett fell to Walters 6-3, 6-1 in No. 2 singles and classmate Bridget Becker bowed to Bianco 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3.