Jess Munro counts the wind among his many blessings as first-year coach of the Loyola Sacred Heart tennis teams.
What's that again?
Actually there’s a good explanation. When Munro’s boys and girls take to the court for the three-day State B-C meet starting Thursday, they’re likely to face blustery conditions in Great Falls. It’s a way of life in the Electric City, where the wind has been known to do amazing things like blowing down tennis fences.
“We’ve been telling them all season long when we go to Great Falls the wind is going to change the way the ball goes,” the coach said. “Our wind has prepped us pretty good.
"We had some wind at a lot of meets and even when we played here in our invite, the afternoon wind came up and we were pretty good.”
Armed with that experience and an impressive group of state-tested players, the Loyola boys’ squad will be hard to stop in its bid for a repeat state championship.
“They’re feeling pretty good,” Munro said. “We had the Missoula Invitational two weeks ago and did real well in that. My No. 1 doubles team won their group. Kalen (Christiaens) won the No. 1 singles. We’re confident.”
Christiaens was temporarily sidelined by an injury last month but looks strong as ever as he sets his sights on a repeat singles title. His toughest competition may come from Fisher Shima of Ronan – the two played in the Missoula Invitational final – or from teammate Ian Descamps, who used his hustling style to reach the state semifinals last year in Missoula.
“Kalen never gets rattled,” Munro said. “He just goes out and goes to work.
“He’s got great ball movement and court sense. What he does is brings people in to play his game. When they do, he's going to win.”
Munro believes his boys’ team benefited from playing a number of Class A programs this season, including highly-touted Corvallis. Christiaens lost in straight sets to the Blue Devils’ No. 1, state favorite D.J. Pekoc, but the experience may have helped the Loyola senior more than any other match he played this season.
“Then we had all the (B-C) teams in the state for the Missoula Invitational and Kalen cruised through it,” Munro noted. “He’s ready. And when he plays really well the whole team feeds off that.”
In doubles, Loyola’s No. 1 team of Matt Roberts/Stephen Sellman has gradually improved and will be considered the favorite in Great Falls. But it’s not going to be a cakewalk.
The duo escaped with a narrow win over Bigfork’s George Gibson and Ben Russell in the Missoula Invitational semifinals, 6-3, 4-6, 10-7. Bigfork’s Isaac Martel and Adam Jordt are also a doubles force capable of mining gold.
In the girls' meet, Chinook is shooting for its second straight team title. The Sugarbeeters are led by a couple of salty singles players in defending state champion Mariah Swank and Brooke Nicholson. They are both capable of taking the 2015 singles title after battling one another in a tough three-setter in late April.
Divisional champs Casey Cummins of Loyola and Kaila Wicklund of Bigfork are also good bets to make noise in singles. The Breakers were impressive in earning a divisional team title last weekend in Superior.
"They played real solid," Munro said. "Every girl, when they got on the court they just laid it on the line.
"The freshmen (Mattie Burke and Jacy Job) end up winning the whole thing in doubles. The whole team, I can’t say enough about their focus and commitment to winning that divisional. It sets us up very good going into state. We’re going to get some good placements."
Joining Burke/Job as bona fide contenders for doubles gold are Bigfork divisional champs Brooke Bonner and Alauna Weilacher. Another team to watch is Loyola’s Whitney Bowditch/Sami Worster, who lost a close three-setter to the Burke/Job team in divisional semifinals.
Last year’s third-place team, Alex Kraft and Duana Gobert of Cut Bank, are the doubles favorites heading into state. But wind has a way of equalizing things on the tennis courts in Great Falls, making for some intriguing matches over the next three days.