NEGAUNEE — It has been two years since Josie Hofer and Jenna Nolde took home first-place laurels at the Division I U.P. Tennis Finals, but on Monday, the duo walked off the high school courts for the final time with tears in their eyes and gold around their necks.
Nolde, Menominee’s No. 1 player, and Hofer, Menominee’s No. 2, both capped off incredible seasons by reclaiming their place on top of the U.P. tennis world and leading the Maroons to a second place finish with 14 team points, seven behind the champion Negaunee Miners.
“Jenna and Josie played incredible, flawless tennis today,” Menominee coach Nikki Mathieu said. “They both were super nervous at our team meeting the night before, and to see both of them end their high school careers as U.P. champs is incredibly satisfying. I was crying, they were crying, and just knowing how bad they both wanted it is like I said, incredibly satisfying.”
Nolde was the top seed in the No. 1 singles bracket as she went through the entire season with an undefeated record, and continued that streak with a 6-0, 6-0 second round victory over Jenna Wealton of Westwood after receiving a bye in the first to move on to the championship.
In the finals, Nolde went up against a very formidable opponent in Negaunee’s Lilly Nelson, but Nolde hung tough and played her game, winning the first set 6-1 before ending things in the second with a 6-3 triumph.
“It feels really good to finally win U.P.’s again,” Nolde said. “I felt like I played the best I have all year (in Negaunee) so it was really nice to go out like that. I was really nervous going in because it’s never easy to beat someone three times in a season, so to be able to get that done was great.”
In the No. 2 singles bracket, Hofer did not receive a bye in the first round as a few losses in the regular season dropped her in seeding, but if her first match against Kingsford’s Maggie Meneghini proved anything, it’s that she deserved to be considered at the top as she easily moved on with a 6-0, 6-0 win.
Her second round match was against Westwood’s Jillian Koski, who handled Hofer earlier in the year, but this was a new day and Mathieu could see it in Hofer’s eyes that she was locked in.
“I know Josie was looking forward to getting another shot at Westwood and Negaunee, and she played with an unbelievable confidence today,” Mathieu said. “She was ready for those matches.”
Hofer avenged her early season loss by sneaking away with the first set 6-4 before putting the beat down on Koski in the second with a 6-0 victory to advance to the finals against another one of her rivals — Negaunee’s Jillian Skewis.
The season series between the two heading into the Finals was at 1-1, as Hofer defeated Skewis in the first meeting and was forced to forfeit in the third set due to injury, so again she had some motivation heading into the match, and it showed as she played her heart out for a 6-4, 6-2 championship match victory.
“I was nervous heading into the semifinals because Westwood beat me pretty easily early in the year and I just know how good Negaunee is,” Hofer said. “Once the match started I gained a little confidence and it got better with each hit. It just feels really good right now.”
While none of the other singles players made it to the finals, they brought in huge team points for Menominee by winning their first round matches.
At No. 3 singles, Jada VanBeek was able to get by Gladstone Rachel Krouth 6-1, 6-4, and in the No. 4 slot Erin Barrette wiped out Kingford’s Kylie Mitchell 6-2, 6-3. In her second round match against Westwood’s Mallory Leece, Barrette lost the first set 3-6 before taking the second 6-3, but unfortunately she ran out of gas in the third set and fell 3-6. VanBeek was defeated by Marquette’s Lindsay Williams 4-6, 3-6.
“All we needed was for Erin and Jada to get past the first round for us to gain us some points and they made it happen,” Mathieu said. “Those two points were crucial.
“For those two and Makenzie Wellner to step in this year having never played tennis before and perform the way they did is amazing. Three months ago they didn’t even know how to keep score and now here they are. Amazing.”
In doubles play, Menominee was led by two second-place finishes from the teams of Emma Anderson & Rylee Doyle and Kennedy Olson & Anna Nerat.
Anderson & Doyle were the No. 2 seed in the No. 2 doubles bracket giving them a first round bye for matchup with Westwood’s Avery Marineau and Emily Nelson where the teams split the first two sets 7-6(6) in favor of Menominee and 3-6 to the Patriots. Facing a decisive third set to make the finals and guarantee at least two team points, the Maroons duo outworked Westwood’s for a 6-2 victory.
In the finals against Negaunee, Anderson & Doyle were defeated 6-3, 6-3.
“Emma and Rylee started out slow in the beginning. We had a little not-so-nice conversation with them at one point in their set and after that they came out and finished the day strong,” Mathieu said.
Also receiving a No. 2 seed in the No. 3 doubles bracket was Nerat & Olson, meaning they would receive a bye and needed to win just one match to get in the finals, but against Westwood there are no easy matches so it would not be a cakewalk.
The first set went to a tiebreak that Menominee won 7-6(7), but Westwood came back for a 4-6 win in the second to send it to a third set to see who would move on. With their backs against the wall, the Maroons duo came through with a 6-3 win to move on to the finals against another tough team in Negaunee.
Menominee lost the first set 1-6, but would not go away and won the next set 6-1 to force a third set in the championship match. Unfortunately for the Maroons, Negaunee came out on top with a 6-1 win.
“Kennedy and Anna played so well together and they just understand one another,” Mathieu said. “They know how to communicate and it shows on the court.”
Two players that might have made the biggest strides over the last few years did not have the day they wanted, but No. 1 doubles players Abbie Anglehart and Meghan Francour have nothing to hang their heads at after a phenomenal tennis career.
The top Maroons’ doubles duo did not receive a bye in the first round and went up against Kingsford, advancing with a 6-3, 6-1 win to take on No. 2 seeded Westwood in the semifinals.
In the semis, Menominee won the first set 7-6(4) before Westwood took the next two 6-4, 7-6(4) to knock Menominee out with a third-place finish.
“These two girls have come so far over the last several years, and playing in the No. 1 spot is tough. They improved almost every match this year, and both of them played very well in Negaunee,” Mathieu said. “With the wind today, some of their shots were incredible and they should be proud of themselves.”
Last but not least for the Maroons is the No. 4 doubles team of Bella LaVia and Wellner, and they won their first round matchup against Kingsford by a score of 6-1, 6-1 to advance to the semifinals against Negaunee, where they unfortunately met their match and narrowly fell 7-5, 6-4 for another third place.
“Makenzie and Bella didn’t get to build much of a rapport this year as they got thrown together a little later in the season, but for everything they had to go through and for Makenzie not playing tennis before this year, I think they both did very well,” Mathieu said.
The end of the season is always bittersweet for any coach, and that remains the same for Mathieu as she will lose eight seniors (Nolde, Hofer, Anderson, Anglehart, Francour, VanBeek, Wellner and Barrette), but the memories and experiences they shared over the course of the last few years will always be with her.
“Me and my volunteer assistant coaches, Erin Antilla and Peter Hitch, we have been so blessed to be able to coach some pretty amazing girls,” Mathieu said. “In the team meeting the night before we told them we know they will play all their heart and soul, but we need them to play with a clear mind today. One point and one game at a time, and they all just got stronger as the day went on.
“All of these girls are very humble, and I’m happy we got the opportunity to play our season because they have all made me one proud coach.”
Team scores: Negaunee 21, Menominee 14, Westwood 10, Marquette 8, Gladstone 1, Escanaba 0, Kingsford 0.