They were destined to meet in the semifinals, and destiny was served on Friday at Novi High School when Huron met Pioneer in an MHSAA Division 1 State Finals semifinal matchup.
When city rivals meet in athletics, pundits like to say you can throw out the records. In tennis, when Pioneer and Huron walk out onto the court, you can throw out not only the records, but the seeds and previous head-to-head results.
And the Pioneers proved just that with an impressive 6-2 win over the River Rats to advance to the finals. Huron defeated Pioneer twice during the regular season and were the second seed while Pioneer was seeded third.
But none of that mattered on Friday.
Pioneer’s Stanley Rhodes defeated Huron’s Angie Zhou 6-3, 6-1 at one singles. At two singles, Pioneer’s Isaac Herrenkohl defeated Andy Andea 6-2, 6-4. Pioneer’s Noah Vogel defeated Michael Shi at three singles 6-4, 7-6 (5). At four singles, Pioneer’s Corin Tang defeated Nick Pauken 7-5, 6-3.
At one doubles, the Pioneer team of Sam Berkooz and Jack Aachibald defeated Nick Grosh and TJ Bai 6-4, 6-3. At two doubles, Huron’s team of Vincent Tremonti and Aidan Storey defeated Evan Roopas and Aditya Abbaraju 6-0, 6-3.
At three doubles, Huron’s duo of Rishab Jayaraman and Lee Finger-Myers won 6-1, 6-3 over Shankrith Chandru and Will Castanier. At four doubles, the Pioneer team of Joseph Alphonso and Alex Roopas defeated Agosto D’Andrea and Ahmed Hejazi won 7-5, 6-2.
Perhaps the emotional and hard-fought semifinals took some wind out of their sails, because Pioneer lost 8-0 to Okemos in the championship match.
Even so, Okemos is an exceptional program. The Chiefs won Division 2 titles in 2017 and 2018, but moved up to Division 1 before the 2019 season. They tied for fourth last year when Pioneer and Huron tied for first place.Tired or not, coach Tom Pullen, who has coached the boys and girls tennis programs at Pioneer since 1990, was impressed with the Chiefs.
“I think we did burn ourselves out,” Pullen said. “Okemos is a stronger team than us, no question. We didn’t have much left after playing Huron. We lost to them twice during the year, and that was our state tournament right there.”
Pioneer defeated Bloomfield Hills in the quarterfinals (5-3) and Eisenhower in the round of 16 (8-0) on Thursday. Huron advanced with wins over Canton (8-0) and Brother Rice (7-1).
In order to lessen the crowds of players and parents at the event during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new team finals format was instituted. Instead of teams scoring points based on how well their individuals did against other opponents in each flight, the format this year was a 16-team, bracketed tournament of dual matches.
Pullen has been “pulling” for the format change for years.
“I’ve pushed for this format from the beginning,” he said. “I feel that it’s all about team versus team. I like this format.”