NEGAUNEE - Of all their wins this season, the Negaunee girls tennis team's victory over Iron Mountain might've been the most impressive.
The Miners improved to 9-1-1 with a 5-3 win over the visiting Mountaineers, which entered the match with a 12-1 record.
"We knew they were solid. They're one of the top programs in the U.P.," NHS coach Kyle Saari said. "At the same time, our girls' focus was that they wanted to play their best heading into the conference meet."
Matt Keiser/Mining Journal Photo
Iron Mountain's number one singles player Laurie March volleys back to Negaunee's Abbi Kill during the first set of the tennis match at the Negaunee tennis courts Thursday
The Mid-Peninsula Conference meet is Wednesday in Iron Mountain, with the Upper Peninsula finals coming along about two weeks later.
"This was a nice win for our confidence," Saari said. "It shows what we're capable of."
The difference came at the No. 4 flights, the only flight the teams didn't split. It was a Negaunee sweep at singles and doubles, but only after a pair of third sets went the Miners' way.
Negaunee No. 4 singles player Dana DeBretto, a sophomore, prevailed over IM's Emily Chang, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1, while the No. 4 doubles tandem of sophomore Kassy Harsila and senior Sarah Paquette prevailed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
"Of the three three-setters, we got all of them," Saari said. "We've been in many pressure situations this season, and probably 80 percent of them have come out on the right side for us.
"When you see those kinds of circumstances again and again, the mountain's not so high to climb."
The Miners' other three-set winner was No. 3 singles player Kayla Hakala in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Olivia Truscott.
NHS also got wins from No. 2 singles player Allison Carlson and the No. 1 doubles pair of Ashley Anderson and Mandi Grasso.
"I thought another key was at No. 1 doubles," Saari said. "They've been up and down and struggled at times, but now they've proven they belong with this win.
"They stayed focused all day. It showed that this was one they really wanted to get."
Iron Mountain coach Greg Stegall has been pleased with how his young team has played all season.
"We've got four or five freshmen, and all of them have winning records," he said. "It's a combination of them being natural athletes and also taking some private lessons during the summer."
He expected a tough match on Thursday.
"It all a matter of who performs the best today, who has the most mental toughness."
IM's double winners proved that point. One winning team was No. 2 Ali Jastremski and Elli McCole - 6-3, 6-1 winners over NHS' Amanda Washnock and Jessa Johnson.
"I told our coach after we won, 'We finally learned how to play tennis again,'" McCole said.
"We've been winning, but we haven't been playing good tennis," Jastremski said in agreement.
"I think we lost our concentration, but we had a match that went to a third set last week, and I think that woke us up," McCole said.
Another intriguing duo is at No. 3 doubles with identical twin sisters Kate and Emily Bugni. The freshmen pair defeated Negaunee's Kylee Taavola and Jordyn LaFreniere, 6-2, 6-2.
"No, we've never played together before," Emily said.
"This year was the first time we ever played a competitive match," Kate added. "We also just had went out and played fun matches before."
Originally, Kate was going to try playing singles.
"Coach said we should try playing doubles together," Kate said, "and it worked really well.
"I think we've improved since the season started."
"They started out at No. 4, but they beat our No. 3 team in a challenge match and they've been playing there since," he said.
The sisters hadn't ever played together before, but their "twinship" has aided their compatibility on the court.
"We're pretty close," Emily said. "We're best friends, because you always have to rely on your sister."
Some sisters might not think so, but these two do, as illustrated by more than one comment from observers of their match who said they look like they have more fun and show more smiles than just about any other tennis players they've seen this season.
(Steve Brownlee is with the Marquette Mining Journal)