IRONWOOD — There’s only one thing that Ironwood’s Katie Piispanen likes better than playing tennis. And that’s winning when she plays tennis.
“I love the competition and I try my best to win,” Piispanen said. “That’s my motivation. I don’t like to lose matches.”
Piispanen’s journey into the tennis world began when she was in sixth grade and coach Annette Burchell ran a tennis camp at Luther L. Wright High School. It peaked her interest and she became hooked on the sport.
It didn’t take Piispanen and her coaches long to figure out she had a future in the sport. She practiced with the team and she played in exhibition matches while in grades six through eight until she could officially play varsity matches as a freshman.
By her freshman year in high school, she was the No. 2 singles player on the team and has been in the No. 1 slot as a sophomore and into her junior year.
Piispanen and her Ironwood teammates will compete in the U.P. Finals Wednesday at Westwood.
Assistant coach Edgar Wills has helped out with the team for nine years and he said Piispanen is “as good as any girl” we’ve had and could compete against any of them.
Wills talked about how Piispanen has developed into such a good tennis player.
“She’s so good because she’s so consistent,” Wills said. “She has such a well-rounded game where she can hit good ground strokes, plays well at the net and can be a very aggressive player when she needs to be. She practices a lot more than others. She always wants to play and that’s why she’s so good.
“She’s very driven out on the court and she’s very strong mentally in games. She’s become very smart on where she should be hitting the ball. She learned this year she should be placing the ball into open areas. Tennis is as much mental as physical.”
Piispanen also said she has improved the mental aspect of her game and it has made her a better player.
“I used to get down on myself if I made mistakes or started getting beat,” she said. “It just led to more and more mistakes. Now, I don’t get down on myself and it helps. I just keep my confidence up.”
The junior said the strengths of her game are her first serve and ball placement. She said she can now move opposing players from side-to-side and place the ball where she wants it.
Piispanen has once again been Ironwood’s No. 1 singles player this season, which means she always plays the best player on the opposing team. The Red Devils have also played a number of schools with much bigger enrollments with many more potential tennis players to choose from.
Piispanen seemed to relish the challenge and responded with a sparkling 12-2 record.
“This year has gone really well,” Piispanen said. “I’m excited about how it has turned out. We played in a triangular and a tournament this year against some tougher competition. But that’s good for you because it makes you play better.”
The U.P. Finals will be one final measuring stick on how far Piispanen has come as a tennis player in her junior year.
Ironwood is in Division 2 and Piispanen said Iron Mountain and Westwood usually field good teams.
The U.P. Finals is a single-elimination tournament, so it’s one and done if you play a poor match and lose. Three wins makes a player the champion of their division and Wills said not to count out Piispanen.
“She has as good a chance as anybody in the tournament,” Wills said.
Last year, Piispanen lost in the first round to a senior from Munising, but she is a better player this year. Although she wasn’t about starting to predict U.P. titles for herself, Piispanen feels good about her game and herself heading into the tournament.
“I’m confident going into it,” she said. “I’m going to keep calm and play like I’m capable of.”