PORTAGE — It’s not often that the tennis team at Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart has been able to fly under the radar. The Gazelles had won six state championships since 2012 under the direction of former coach Judy Hehs, who is now the principal at Wixom St. Catherine of Siena.
So Sacred Heart wasn’t an automatic lock to repeat this spring — not with a new coach, only four players with state tournament experience returning, and the pandemic-cancelled 2020 season leveling the playing field.
“When the season started, they were a little raw, but they worked really hard throughout the season. There was definitely a lot of improvement throughout,” coach Chris Shaya said. “We were ranked fourth (as a team) throughout the regular season, but we all knew there was something more there.”
When it was all said and done, the season had a familiar conclusion: the Gazelles once again captured the Division 4 state championship, and they did it in the usual way — with all-around strong play across all eight flights.
“I don’t know if we were a powerhouse this year, but we were very solid in every spot,” Shaya said. “We were very, very good on day one (of the final tournament) — we had seven out of eight flights play into the semis, and that was very hard for the next team, which was Traverse City St. Francis.”
Sacred Heart finished with 29 points, six ahead of St. Francis. Catholic schools and league affiliates had a strong showing at the Division 4 tournament held June 3-4 in the Kalamazoo area, as the field also included Grand Rapids West Catholic (5th), Jackson Lumen Christi (6th), Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard (7th), Ann Arbor Greenhills (9th), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (10th), Warren Regina (11th), Wixom St. Catherine (13th) and Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett (15th).
Two Sacred Heart doubles teams won flight championships in closely contested final matches: sisters Marisa and Kayla Nafso took No. 1 doubles over Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian’s Delaine Minnema and Caroline Rudolph (7-6(3), 2-6, 6-1), while Noor Simon and Angelina Kakos downed Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Hannah Nelson and Brooke Tietz (7-6(5), 6-4) at No. 3 doubles.
No. 2 singles player Isabelle Burg and No. 2 doubles team Lulu George and Maggie Pulte also reached the final round for Sacred Heart. Reagan Beatty and Eve Jackson also played into the semifinals at No. 1 and No. 4 singles, respectively, while Jordan Rivenburg and Katie Kelly were semifinalists at No. 4 doubles.
“They were a really great group of kids,” Shaya said. “They bought into what I was selling: it’s all about the team that hurts themselves the least. It’s not about who hits the flashiest shots, it’s about who hits the most solid shots. The more points you win at the end of the day will be the team that is most solid. We were well-balanced and that helped us the most. We’re a tough out at every flight.”
Clarkston Everest Collegiate senior Morrea McNalley won the No. 1 singles crown, finishing her season undefeated at 32-0. McNalley had previously won the state singles championship in 2019.
The Catholic League nearly brought home two other team titles. Birmingham Marian was runner-up in the Division 2 tournament at Midland, with 25 points. Champion Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern was a powerhouse, winning all but one flight and scoring 39.
Marian’s Lily Low prevented a clean sweep by Forest Hills Northern, as she upset the Huskies’ top-ranked Nathalie Lanne to win the No. 3 singles title (2-6, 6-1, 7-5). Marian reached the finals at No. 2 doubles with Gabi Saba and Keely Nykerk, and No. 4 doubles with Marcella Zarouk and Meghan Stanley, but Forest Hills Northern took each of those flights with close wins in the championship matches.
In Division 3 play at Holland, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood was nipped for the team title by Birmingham Detroit Country Day, 30-29. Although Cranbrook’s Charlotte Brown won the No. 2 singles state championship over Country Day’s Lana Haddard (6-4, 6-4), the Cranes found it hard to catch many other breaks on the final day. Sienna Ilitch and Olivia Zhang reached the finals at No. 3 and No. 4 singles, respectively, only to fall to their competitors from Chelsea. Meanwhile, Country Day won the No. 1 singles, No. 2 doubles and No. 3 doubles flights to pass up Cranbrook in total points.
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep was fifth with 17 points, as the Fighting Irish’s Julia Gurne was a finalist at No. 1 singles.
Farmington Hills Mercy was the lone Catholic League representative in the Division 1 tournament in greater Lansing, and finished 16th with 4 points. No. 1 singles player Maddie Sullivan was responsible for most of those, as she advanced to the semifinals after winning three early matches.