By DAVID LESNICK
The Daily Inter Lake
The Whitefish boys have four state qualifiers — singles players Brendan Buls, the top seed from last week’s Northwestern A Divisional, and Jayce Cripe, the No. 3 seed from the divisional — along with the divisional doubles champions and No. 1 seed Mark Anderson/Colter Upton.
But will that be enough for the Bulldogs to repeat as Class A state tennis champs this week at Flathead Valley Community College?
“Just like last season, there is no single dominant team this year,” Whitefish coach Chris Schwaderer said.
“Dillon and Hardin both look really dangerous. They are athletic and deep. Corvallis is also in the mix. They are a perennially strong program and always show up at tournament time.”
Whitefish, Hardin and Corvallis all tied for the team title last year with 20 points. Havre and Dillon were next with 18 each.
It could be that close again.
Buls was a state runner-up in singles in 2018 while Anderson and Forrest Kobelt were fifth in doubles.
“Bringing home a state championship trophy last year was an amazing feeling for everyone,” Schwaderer said.
“We never expected it. This year we have many of the same point-scorers from last year’s team. But every state tournament is different — nobody cares about who you are or what you did last year. It can be a humbling experience. Still, we have worked hard to get where we are, we have a lot of pride, and we want to make Whitefish proud.”
On the WHS boys …
“All four of our state qualifiers are committed and highly competitive,” Schwaderer said.
“Brendan Buls has been thinking about this tournament for a year. He has been intensely focused on getting better both technically and mentally. He has all the tools and is a lot of fun to watch.
“Jayce Cripe is making his second trip to state. He comes from a long line of great tennis players. He pushes himself to get better every day. This has been a great year for him, and I hope he has a breakthrough at the state tournament.
“Mark Anderson and Colter Upton were brand new to tennis two years ago, and they have committed themselves to improving. Both have really high expectations for themselves. Their game has evolved over the course of the season as they have begun to add different shots to their quiver and think more tactically about tennis.”
Play starts today on the courts at FVCC at 8 a.m. with boys and girls singles and boys and girls doubles. Play resumes Friday at 8 a.m.
All total, there will be 80 matches on Thursday and 36 on the final day.
“I think all of our players feel confident going into this year’s tournament, but they understand that there are many talented players out there in both singles and doubles, and we are the underdogs,” Schwaderer said.
“They can’t let the stage feel to big. All these guys have a great philosophy about tennis. From the beginning it has been about having fun, developing friendships, and getting better. If they can keep everything in perspective, I think they will have a competitive tournament.”
Brad Rakich of Dillon returns to defend his singles title. He beat Buls in last year’s final 6-3, 7-5.
Also on the courts today in boys singles are Neils Getts of Columbia Falls and Joe McDonald of Polson.
In boys doubles, Polson has two teams — Kendal Forman-Webster/Bridger Wenzel and Anton Lefthand/Trevor Schultz — and Columbia Falls one — John Gilk/Camryn Lingle.
McDonald was second at divisional, along with Gilk/Lingle.
The Polson girls, like the boys, have five state qualifiers with Shea McGuinness in singles and Berkley Ellis/Qia Harlan and Ara Mercer/Megan Rost in doubles.
McGuinness, the defending state singles champ, was third at divisionals.
“Corvallis and Hardin have more than us, but 10 kids is very special,” Polson coach Bob Hislop said of his state qualifiers.
“Shea had a tough regular season and had trouble winning close matches, but is playing as well as I have ever her seen now. Getting third at divisional means she has a tough draw right from the start, but all of her opponents have to deal with the psyche of playing the defending state champion.
“Berkley and Qia are very solid and really have a lot of fun playing together. After they made an amazing comeback to win the divisional title, they are set up with a nice draw at state. Nice doesn’t mean easy, but I think it is easier than the other side of the draw. Berkley was fourth at state as a freshman with her partner Kyler Lundeen.
“Megan and Ara are at state for the first time (as is Qia) after having a very strong divisional. They are a very athletic team. It will be fun to see what they can do.”
On the Polson boys …
“Joe had a very strong divisional and lost in the championship against returning state runner-up Brendan Buls,” Hislop said.
“Joe has put a lot of time into his game and he is reaping the rewards of his hard work.
“Our four doubles boys are all at state for the first time and are playing great. Bridger is a first year player who was all-state in soccer and wrestling as a senior. The other three boys are juniors.”
The Polson girls won state last year with 24 points. Hardin and Belgrade were next with 17 each. Corvallis was fourth with 14.
“Winning a state championship never gets old, but it is a new year with lots of new challenges,” Hislop said.
“I think the girls have a shot at a trophy if they play well, I am just not sure what color it will be. It is just a treat to work with this group of boys and girls — they are better people than they are tennis players.”
The Whitefish girls have five at state, led by singles divisional champion Gracie Smyley and Olivia Potthoff/Aubrey Hanks and Jesse Grawunder/Payton Kastella, who were second and fourth at divisional doubles, respectively.
“Our doubles teams are all juniors,” Whitefish coach Patrick Dryden said.
“Potthoff and Hanks captured third place at state last year, but could run into the tournament favorites from Hardin in the quarterfinals.
“Smyley is considered one of the favorites for the singles crown. She will open up with Abi Noteboom from Hardin.
“The Polson girls are the defending state champions and they are the team to beat,” Dryden said.
Whitefish defeated Polson twice in duals and also at divisionals, however “the top of Polson’s lineup is powerful,” Dryden said. “The role of tournament favorite is shared by Polson and Hardin. Hardin leads the tournament in qualifiers with seven girls, including six seniors in the doubles competition. Whitefish does not have a senior on its roster and we might be a year away from contending for the crown, but it sure would be nice to sneak in and grab one of the state trophies.”
Libby and Columbia Falls both have a singles entrant — Marissa Wood and Hannah Schweikert, respectively. Schweikert was second at divisionals.