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Kelch, Hunt divisional champs as Whitefish sends trio of doubles teams to state

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | May 24, 2023 1:00 AM

At the Northwest A Divisional Tennis Tournament last week in Libby, the Whitefish Bulldogs had three doubles teams qualify for the state tournament.

Whitefish’s No. 1 doubles team for the boys, also the No. 1 seed in the tournament, juniors Mason Kelch and Dane Hunt had a commanding performance to place first and become divisional champions. The Whitefish boys No. 2 doubles team of senior Johnny Nix and junior Jesse Burrough also qualified for state by earning a spot in the third-fourth place match; the Bulldog team took fourth and Polson nabbed third.

The only girls to qualify for the state tournament was the Bulldog No. 1 doubles team of juniors Ainsley Scott and Maggie Mercer. The duo fought hard to stay undefeated through the first rounds of the tournament and earn a place in the championship to then take second place for divisionals.

“Maggie Mercer and Ainsley Scott were able to nail down second place,” Whitefish girls coach Patrick Dryden said. “They had three really intense matches that were just so draining mentally and physically. It seemed like every set went to a tiebreaker and we won most of them.”

For the boys, Kelch and Hunt started with a bye and then easily won their first match of the tournament defeating Polson’s Otto Lund and Noah Trosper 6-1, 6-2. The Bulldog duo went on to play another Polson team (Colter Wilson/Tate Barentsen) that gave them a bit more trouble. Kelch and Hunt eventually won in a third-set tiebreaker, setting up the championship match with Polson’s No. 1 team of Trent Wilson and Owen McElwee. Whitefish won in two sets 6-4, 6-2.

“The No. 1 doubles, Kelch and Hunt, were really impressive like they’ve been all year… They were dominant and it was fun to see,” Bulldog boys coach Chris Schwaderer said.

Burrough and Nix won their first two matches before falling to Polson’s Wilson/McElwee team. After entering the loser-out bracket, Nix/Burrough defeated a Polson team in a three-set thriller to make it to the third-fourth place match and qualify for state. In their final match Polson’s Wilson/Barentsen team defeated Whitefish 6-4, 7-5.

“They had a tough match against a Polson team where they were down a set… they came back and in the third set they were down 4-0 and they ran off six straight which is an incredible comeback in order to qualify for state,” Schwaderer said of Nix and Burrough.

On the singles side, Whitefish freshman and No. 1 singles player Jack Oehlerich lost his first match, but fought his way through the loser-out bracket. He won three matches, including a couple of three-setters, before Ronan’s Beau Decker defeated him 6-1, 6-1 to end his hopes of making state.

The girls doubles team of Scott and Mercer started off their first match a bit flat and lost the first set. The duo fought back to win over Polson’s Tia Mercer and Julia Barnard 1-6, 6-4, 6-4. That set up another three set match for the Whitefish team against another Polson team. In this one Scott/Mercer lost the first set on a tiebreaker and had to battle back to win 6-7 (5-6), 7-5, 6-2. In the championship match the Bulldogs competed well with Polson’s No. 1 team of Lucy Violett and Katie Smith, but ultimately lost 7-5, 7-5.

“Losing a tiebreaker, those are excruciating. But good teams find a way to overcome that and they did,” Dryden said of Scott and Mercer’s comeback to make it to the championship match.

On the singles side junior Alivia Lusko and freshman Camry Kelch, Whitefish’s top two singles players, played well but didn’t make the cut for state. Kelch came within one match of qualifying after fighting through the loser-out bracket. She played five matches total, going 3-2 through the tournament.

“Everybody played well, I think we played our best tennis of the year and to have the happen at the divisional tournament is what you dream of as a coach,” Dryden said. “All 10 players scored, so we got a victory from every member on the team.”

In the team standings, Polson dominated the girls play earning 73 points for first; Whitefish and Columbia Falls tied for second place with 31 points each. The boys earned third place in the team standings with 32 points. Polson was first (48) and Libby was second (34).

“We need to tip our hats to the Polson Pirates because that was an amazing display that they put on this week, (the girls) scoring 73 points is quite an accomplishment,” Dryden expressed.

Whitefish will travel to Missoula for the Class A State Tennis Tournament on Thursday and Friday this week.