Not even the state tournament measures up to the Helena Invitational when it comes to Montana large-school tennis competition.

When the annual two-day event begins Friday, Missoula Big Sky net coach Gordon Terpe will be among those paying close attention to how things shake out. Like his peers, his all-important lineup decisions leading up to divisionals next week are made easier by this weekend’s showdown in the Capital City.

“It’s really the only time during the tennis regular season where we see everybody from around the state,” said Terpe, who grew up in Helena and played for Helena High. “It’s a tournament that has all 14 double-A schools in it, plus a couple of Class A schools.

“In a lot of ways it’s bigger than the state tournament in terms of who you see and how many players wind up there. It’s very unique that way.”

May is a big month for Missoula’s three Class AA tennis programs because each boasts a bona fide contender for state supremacy. Big Sky has one of the best boys’ singles players in the state in Colin Bahin. Hellgate has serious threats in girls’ singles (Sofia Panarella) and boys’ doubles (Isak Nord and Grant Porter). Sentinel has two of the top girls’ doubles teams in the state in Katie Veteto/Morgan Harrington and Kelsey Thomas/Sarah Ramsbacher.

Sentinel coach Jenn Keintz says it’s a luxury having two elite doubles teams to spar with one another.

“They rely on each other in practice and they all have different strengths,” she noted. “It makes them better every day to have that other team pushing them.

“All four of them know on any given day they could be beaten by the other team. They play each other quite a bit, or the guys on the team or the coaches.”

Terpe believes it’s good for Missoula tennis to have elite state contenders at each of the three Class AA schools.

“The parity in Missoula tennis has grown over the past couple years,” he noted. “Hellgate had those great teams and it’s not to say Hellgate is not a great team anymore. It’s just things are balanced out more.

“You’re seeing definitely a lot more competition in our dual matches and I think there’s renewed excitement for high school tennis in Missoula.”

Knights' Babbitt says kin key to success

Asked to explain his shot put and discus success at Hellgate, Zayne Babbitt points to his family first.

“I've been real fortunate with loving parents,” says the down-to-earth senior. “My dad and my brother helped build a platform out in our field that I throw in. It's pretty nice.”

“Then my mom was a thrower for Superior and did well – she was kind of my first coach.”

At 6 feet, 4 1/2 inches and 305 pounds, Babbitt is the defending Class AA state champion in the shot put. This spring he ranks 33rd in the nation in the shot at 58-1 1/4 inches and 42nd in the discus at 174-10.

Babbitt hopes to compete in college somewhere, preferably close to home.

Big Sky's Entzel earns mat award

Missoula Big Sky senior Luke Entzel has been pegged as Montana's recipient of the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award, which is given by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Oklahoma. The award celebrates excellence in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship and community service.

Entzel is a three-time state champion who has committed to wrestle for Iowa State. Wrestlers from 49 states receive the award.

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“These student-athletes are role models who influence young people in a very meaningful way,” said Lee Roy Smith, executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “We are not surprised to find that these winners represent diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds; reinforcing why the sport of wrestling is by nature and design a sport for all.”

Area preps to compete in college

A host of western Montana high school standouts have announced they will take their talents to the college level in the coming school year.

Missoula Big Sky safety/wideout Brock Shaide will play football for North Dakota. The Eagles' Hannah Porch will run track for Carroll and Sabrina Sturbis will run cross country for Hawaii. Big Sky's Dana Kowachek will play soccer for Fort Lewis and classmate Sam McKay will play soccer for Whitworth in Spokane.

Holly Hale, a senior outfielder for Florence, will play softball for Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Casey Ryter, a 6-5 forward from Hamilton, and Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, a 6-3 guard from Sentinel, have signed to play basketball for NAIA Montana Western.

Faith Bauer, an outside hitter from Frenchtown, has signed to play volleyball for the University of Great Falls. Whitefish linebacker/wideout Jack Striebich has signed to play football for NCAA Division III Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Whitefish hires girls' soccer coach

Roland Benedict has been pegged to coach the Bulldogs pending school board approval in May. He has served as an assistant coach in the girls' program the past two seasons and spent one season with the Whitefish boys' program under longtime skipper O'Brien Byrd.

Kalispell Flathead celebrates ex-coach

On Tuesday the Bravettes' softball program honored Gene Boyle by naming its home field after the former coach/athletic director. It's a little complicated though, because Flathead plays at Conrad Complex and it's not always on the same field. The field where Flathead does play home games will from this point forward be considered Boyle Field.

Boyle led the Bravettes to their first state championship. He served as Flathead activities director for 18 years. Many consider Boyle to be "the spirit of Flathead High School."

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