It’s been 13 years since a high school swept the boys’ and girls’ team titles in the State A tennis meet.
If everything goes just right for Corvallis on Thursday and Friday in Missoula, the Blue Devils may just match Havre’s momentous feat of 2002. But it’s going to take every bit of grit they can muster.
“We’re going to have to show up to play and be prepared,” Corvallis girls’ coach Mike Fehr said. “I like the four girls that are going for us. They’re all seniors and have had a phenomenal year.
“They’ve sort of been on a mission from Day One. But we have to earn it.”
Fehr’s girls are vying for their third straight team crown, led by defending singles champion Laramie McHugh. The senior, who attended the John Newcombe Tennis Academy in Texas last summer, is undefeated this spring.
“What I see in her game is she has a way bigger variety of shots than last year,” Fehr offered. “She has more weapons and she’s much more athletic. She’s faster and stronger and it does make a difference.”
McHugh’s toughest competition may come from a familiar foe – two-time state runner-up Barclay Fagg of Billings Central. They played a tough three-setter in the state final last May in Billings and are again on opposite sides of the bracket.
Billings Central will likely provide the toughest team competition for the Corvallis girls. Not only did Fagg win the Eastern A singles crown as a junior, teammates Megan Pritchard and Sarina Aamold won a divisional doubles crown.
It may play to Corvallis’ advantage that the state meet is being held close to home at the University of Montana and the Peak Racquet Club. Fehr says he has received a lot of feedback from Bitterroot Valley tennis fans excited to watch.
In the end though, points scored by Corvallis divisional doubles champions Dakota Vaccaro and Miriam Montgomery and divisional singles runner-up Amber Wissenbach may be what pushes the Blue Devils over the top in team scoring.
“Amber Wissenbach was just phenomenal in her match to get to the (divisional) final,” Fehr noted. “I'm very proud of what she's done, only playing tennis for two years."
Vaccaro and Montgomery aren’t western Montana's only girls’ doubles team capable of mining gold. Whitefish’s Anna Peterson and Katie Fyall took top honors in the Northwestern A Divisional and Stevensville’s Danielle Haacke and Saya Shimazaki pushed the Vaccaro/Montgomery team to three sets in divisionals.
“Danielle (Haacke) has worked real hard and is really coming along nicely as a junior,” Yellowjackets coach Bill Everett said. “Shimazaki is amazing. She’s a foreign exchange student from Japan and they tell me she never played before our first day of practice. She’s just solid.”
Emily Getts of Columbia Falls and Marlee Congdon of Polson are also hoping to make noise in the singles bracket after reaching divisional finals.
The Corvallis boys are eyeing their fourth team title in six years, led by singles stalwart DJ Pekoc. Like the Blue Devil girls, the boys’ toughest team competition will likely come from Billings Central.
“I think we're going into the state tournament with a pretty strong group of players,” Corvallis boys’ coach Chris Maul-Smith said. “As I've looked around the state, things are pretty spread out in both singles and doubles.
“It's going to take a pretty strong effort from all three of our entries if we're going to make a run as a team. It looks like we'll be very competitive with DJ and I think our doubles team could have a shot at placing in the top four."
Pekoc, who will play at NCAA Division III Pacific Lutheran in the fall, probably would have won the State A singles title last year had he not struggled with cramping after building a 6-2, 4-0 lead on Havre's Jeff Miller. Since then Pekoc has worked hard to improve his game and eating habits and he may get another shot at Miller should they both reach the championship match.
"DJ has always had a good serve but now he places it in different parts of the service box and he mixes it up," Maul-Smith said. "It's not just by accident that serve is landing where it is.
"He's a player who can react quickly when he needs to but he can also dictate points."
To win as a team, Corvallis will need contributions from its divisional runner-up doubles tandem of Riley Jessop and Caleb Powell and senior Jesse Knapp, who took fourth in divisional singles.
The area's top doubles teams heading into state are divisional champions Colton Belcourt and Curtis Liston of Stevensville and Colin Kenney and Quaid Harlan of Polson. Belcourt and Liston rallied past Jessop and Powell in a tough Southwestern A Divisional final last weekend, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
"They’ve done that several times this season where they've dropped the first set and came back and won easily in the third," Everett said. "They're just real solid when they work as a team. They're dedicated and both have state experience."
Billings Central's John Knisely and Harrison Fagg are the heavy favorites in boys' doubles. They did not drop a set in taking top honors at state last season and they've played for the championship two years in a row.