Like the jagged, snow-capped peaks that look down on his hometown, Alex Raymond takes many shapes.

The Hamilton junior is among the favorites to win the State A boys' singles title next month in Kalispell. But it's his diverse interests and moral conviction -- not his tennis prowess -- that make him truly unique.

"It helps to have things spread out in life,"  he says with small-town Montana modesty. "That way I don't have to worry about any one thing all the time."

First, it's important to note Raymond is an Eagle Scout.

Some say the Boy Scouts aren't what they used to be and their traditions are outdated. But anyone who has ever donned the uniform can tell you it takes a special kind of persistence to attain Raymond's status.

He's using it to affect positive change. He'd love to see his country follow Canada and Mexico in offering more Scouting opportunities for women.

But, as Alex will tell you, voicing an opinion and taking action are two different things. Raymond is proud to say his troop has made significant strides toward expanding its rules for inclusion.

"I feel like the Boy Scouts have been getting a lot of flack lately about the gays issue and gay leaders and acceptance of transgender kids," he offered. "We've tried to change a couple things nationally and been successful.

"Our troop was one of the first to bring up the transgender issue and why we should allow transgenders ... We literally tried to rewrite the code of conduct and succeeded in that."

It's not just Scouting and tennis that consume Raymond's days. He's also heavily involved in school choir and theater, recently finishing up a stint with the Hamilton High School Choir Department in their presentation of "Grease."

When asked whether the pressure of being on stage helps with the pressure on the hard court, Raymond paused for a moment. You get the impression theater, choir and the whole notion of stage fright aren't nearly as taxing on his inner peace as living up to athletic expectations.  

"I'm on stage a lot so it's not like there's huge pressure there from the audience," he offered. "It's more pressure from the cast and our directors and stuff so we perform well. It has its own set of pressures.

"Tennis is more of a driven pressure from other people. The musical or plays are internal pressure because I expect myself to do well. And with them it's nice having other people on stage with you."

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You might say Raymond is a highly-evolved young man. One who will not be pigeon-holed by a stereotype.

It's not uncommon for the No. 1 player on a high school tennis team to hold himself/herself in high esteem. Some No. 1s, whether they be in Montana or Massachusetts or Midland, Texas, view time spent at practice with less-experienced players as wasteful.

Not Raymond.

"He really is a coach's dream in so many ways," said Broncs third-year skipper Matt Kolman, who has been in the coaching game three decades. "Not only is he a good tennis player, he also helps drill the team. He really sets the standard for the other kids."

Raymond has not had the best of luck as a high school competitor. Last May he took a perfect 20-0 record into the state tournament, then battled an illness and ankle sprain en route to taking fourth place.

This season Alex won his first seven matches before losing by injury default on Tuesday to Dillon's Brad Rakich. Raymond led 6-0, 2-4 when he pulled out because of numbness in the index finger on his racket hand.

Alex has dealt with arm issues off and on for over a year and wears a sleeve on his dominant (right) arm.

"I've said to him, you really have to think about your health," Kolman said. "Over the winter he went to a physical therapist and they gave him some exercises.

"He's just that kind of an athlete. Really coach-able and I don't have to hold back with Alex. He's just real and doesn't play games. To coach him is just a great ride."

The one player that stood between Raymond and a berth in the state finals last year was Harrison Fagg of Billings Central. Raymond and Fagg had an epic semifinal that saw the latter rally to win in three sets en route to a state championship.

Fagg's first-set loss to Raymond proved to be the only set he dropped in the state tournament.

"Alex really couldn't move very well with the ankle sprain," Kolman recalled. "It's just been tough for him, finally getting to that point in a season and then having that happen."

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Raymond isn't tested a lot during the regular season, so he does his best to make up for it by scheduling sparring sessions on his own.

He's grateful to Corvallis No. 1 Gabe DeLeo -- the two are doubles partners in the summer -- for helping him prepare for battle. The Broncs also have a new assistant coach capable of hanging with Raymond from the baseline in Paul Meyer.

Raymond's game hasn't changed a lot since his freshman year when he surprised a lot of folks by storming into the semifinal round in the State A meet in Missoula. What has changed is his attitude about working a point and being patient.

"He can hit winners from the baseline and just tee off and end a point, but doing that he also could hit a lot out or into the net," Kolman noted. "He doesn't do that anymore. He doesn't try to do too much.

"There used to be times where you had to settle him down. Now he has to settle me down."

Mental toughness has, in a sense, become a weapon for Hamilton's No. 1.

"He never beats himself and he's not a racket thrower," Kolman said. "He is passionate and he will get into a match to a point where you need to kind of bring him back. But that hasn't happened in a long time."

It's hard to say how tough Raymond's path to a state title might be this spring. The three players that finished ahead of him in 2016 are all gone.

After Tuesday Raymond knows of at least one player that can push him to the limit in Rakich. But state pressure is different than regular-season pressure and Raymond has plenty of experience in that department.

On thing is for certain: Raymond's focus has never been better. The goal, according to Kolman, is to get to the state championship match with plenty left in the tank.

"He doesn't have as many close matches as he used to have," the coach offered. "His matches are shorter and they end faster.

"To me the real opponent for Alex this year is himself. He tends to do the smart thing."

That also seems to be his modus operandi off the court, where the stakes are much higher and the payoff lasts much longer.

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