Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Kelch, Hunt nab boys doubles third place at state tennis tournament

Whitefish Pilot | May 31, 2023 1:00 AM

High school tennis tournaments are full of twists and turns, and the Montana State A tournament last week in Missoula was no different.

Whitefish had qualified three doubles teams to compete in the state tournament — its top two boys teams and No. 1 girls team. The best performance of the two-day tournament came from the boys No. 1 doubles team of juniors Mason Kelch and Dane Hunt, who took first in the Northwest A Divisional Tournament the week prior. The duo battled their way to third place after a significant rain delay interrupted play on Friday.

Early on Kelch and Hunt were cruising their way through the competition, looking as sharp as ever according to Whitefish head boys coach Chris Schwaderer. When they hit the semifinal, they matched up against one of the top teams from the east, Billings Central’s Matthew Newbury and Gabbo Giammattei. Schwaderer says Kelch/Hunt were widely considered the best from the west and Newbury/Giammattei were the top out of the east.

“The word was that we were probably the best doubles team on the west side and Billings Central was coming in as the best team out of the east; according to our bracket, we matched up in the semis. We thought that was going to be a big one,” Schwaderer said.

Kelch and Hunt got off to a great start winning their first set 6-1. Things tightened up a bit in the second set and the Bulldogs were trailing 3-4 when a three-hour rain delay hit. After the delay, the Whitefish team never really found their groove again and dropped the match, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

After that, Kelch/Hunt had to battle through the end of the consolation bracket to make it to the third-place match where they defeated Hardin’s Sean Mehling and Derek Blankenship, 6-3, 6-2.

“Third place is great, it’s a tough tournament,” Schwaderer expressed. “Those state tournaments you’ve got to really stay in it… so I think there’s a bit of disappointment because we thought that we probably could have won it.”

The other Bulldog boys team of Johnny Nix and Jesse Burrough lost in the first round to the same team that took out Kelch/Hunt in the semis. After that, Nix and Burrough won a match over Custer County but then lost in the next consolation round to a team from Corvallis.

For the girls, the Whitefish team of juniors Ainsley Scott and Maggie Mercer also competed at state. The week prior, the duo took second place at the Northwest A Divisional Tournament. Unfortunately, the pair lost in the first round of the state tournament to Billings Central’s Evie Reck and Billie Cate Schmitt, 6-0, 6-2 — a team that went on to take third. They then won their first consolation match over Dillon and played better tennis, but lost in the next round to Polson’s No. 1 doubles team. Although Whitefish lost 6-3, 6-4, Whitefish girls coach Patrick Dryden recalls it being a great match.

“I think that was probably our best match of the year even though we lost,” Dryden said of the match versus Polson. “Both teams played really well, just quality tennis.”

He later added, “They started off with a little bit of stage fright, and that’s why it was so important to get them to state this year… I think the biggest thing coming out of it was that Ainsley and Maggie were really hungry for more, and that’s just what you want as a coach.”

Whitefish didn’t make it in the top three for the team scores on either side as the Polson boys and the Miles City girls teams won the state championships.

This season both the boys and girls tennis teams were young and mostly inexperienced on the big stage. The teams will return most of their top players next season, and Schwaderer says the future looks great for Whitefish tennis.

“This team was young in terms of age and experience, we knew that… we have some younger kids that learned a lot and are going to be better for it next year…” Schwaderer concluded. “The future is incredibly bright.”

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