Beaverhead County HS tennis opens season in style

Veni, vidi, vici, icy proved again last weekend the operative phrase to describe the Beaverhead County High School tennis teams’ annual, earlyseason invasion of the Bitterroot Valley.

Shorthanded and forced to make the long journey to a pair of bitter cold Bitterroot Invitational tourney sites at Hamilton and Stevensville for their season openers on Saturday, the Beaver boys and girls still managed to sweep to four team wins and 21 match victories over their hosts.

“I’ve said it before—our kids have true grit,” asserted Lois Woodard, the longtime head coach of both the Dillon boys and girls tennis teams.

“It was cold, and we got hit with big winds and some horizontal snow,” recalled Woodard of the conditions her teams faced in their Saturday morning matches before the weather improved.

“I was amazed at our players. It didn’t bother them at all. They were just excited to play their first meet of the season.”

For many of Woodard’s charges, it also meant playing in their first high school tennis meet—ever.

“Our no. 4 boys singles player Saturday was Chandler Steadman. He’s a freshman who had never had racket in his hand before he started coming to practice a few weeks ago. But he’s come a long way and got the no. 4 singles spot with so many of our other players ineligible Saturday,” said Woodard of her opening-day rosters of available players, which included just nine boys and five girls due to the Montana High School Association rule that a player must participate in 10, full, regularly scheduled practices before he or she can take part in a competitive match—a requirement many Dillon players were unable to fulfill by last weekend due to March commitments to other school activities.

“It must have been so daunting for Chandler—to have never played and be asked to go out and play a varsity match against a very experienced player. But he went right out there and did it without hesitation,” said Woodard of Steadman’s battle against Hamilton’s Khang Truong and his straight-set triumph over John Rodrigues of Stevensville.

“We were really proud of Chandler. He is brave and very athletic and coordinated and one of our fastest runners. If he keeps this up, he could be a special player for Dillon.”

Some of Dillon girls on Saturday also made their competitive high school tennis debuts—and many more will in the days and weeks ahead.

Divisional champions last season boasting a roster loaded with experienced, accomplished players (including four-year varsity standouts and 2017 State A doubles duo champs Tessa Sawyer & Adrianne Southam), the Dillon girls tennis team brings a far different look to the courts this season.

The Lady Beavs retained the serves and services of senior singles and doubles standout Nicole Hritsco, as well as Ashlyn Sandoll and Quinn Belderrain—sophomores who formed a fine doubles pairing last season but will be competing in singles in 2018.

But that’s pretty much it, in terms of competitive tennis experience for the Dillon girls heading into this season.

“We have three returning girls and nine who had never played before,” said Woodard of her roster of a dozen girls.

“‘They are really great gals and working hard, but it’s going to be a big challenge for them.”

Aiding the Dillon players in their efforts to develop this season will be Assistant Coaches Jeff Koslovsky and Jenny Waldorf, with Tim Glueckert helping out with the boys.

“We’re really lucky to have them,” said Woodard of the trio of assistant coaches for a pair of teams that spread out across multiple courts at practice and even multiple towns at some meets.

“I told the rookie girls when we started practicing—there are no heavy expectations on you. But in just 10 days, they have already come a long way.”

Founded just five years ago, when it attracted just six players for its inaugural season, the Dillon boys team came a long way in the last couple of years, winning the Southwest A divisional tourney in 2016 and 2017.

And the Beaver boys appear ready to take another big leap forward this season.

“This looks like a very exciting year for our boys. We will have 15 or 16 boys on the roster, so we have great depth. They are going to be vying hard every week for the 10 spots on the varsity lineup,” said Woodard, whose boys team will be keystoned by a number of returning regulars on the varsity lineup from last season—including Turner Sawyer, Mark Southam, Luke Peterson, Nate Leonardson, Matt Knight, Kole Lappe and Jovany Guillen,

And don’t forget Bradley Rakich—much as the Beavers opponents this season might want to.

“Bradley is playing better right now at the start of this season than he did at the end of last season,” insisted Woodard of the Beaver boys’ top singles player, who finished fourth at the State A tourney last season as a sophomore.

“He is playing really aggressively.”

Rakich displayed that controlled aggression on Saturday while playing Hamilton’s Alex Raymond, the runner-up at last year’s State A tourney. The Dillon junior stormed out to a 5-1 lead in the first set on Saturday before Raymond forfeited due to injury.

“It was so disappointing for Bradley. He was playing so well and pumped to be going head to head with Raymond, who I think is the no. 1 singles player in State A this season,” said Woodard.

“Hopefully, on April 17, when we play Hamilton and Stevi in Dillon, Alex is in one piece and Bradley can play him again.”

The Dillon boys also bring to their 2018 campaign a group of promising underclassmen that includes Steadman, Forest Wagoner, Eli Sherwood, Jett Mosher, Bryan Nelson, Liam Maxfield, Logan Miller and Sam Jones.

Severely depleted by graduations last spring, the Dillon girls team has been replenished this year with an influx of young talent, including seven freshman (Tori Anderson, Bella Glossa, Riley Hall, Laura Leonardson, Chiara Mastandrea, Beatrice Penn and Ruby Pierce) and sophomore newcomers Tess Davis and Nicole Fluckiger.

Next up for the Dillon Beavers tennis teams, a trip further northwest to Polson to play in a April 6–7 four-way meet against Columbia Falls, Whitefish and host Polson.

Dillon results at Bitterroot Invite

Dillon Boys 7, Stevensville 0

Singles: Bradley Rakich (Dillon) def. David Haacke, 6-0, 6-0; Nathaniel Leonardson (Dillon) def. Sam Hale, 6-0, 6-0; Turner Sawyer (Dillon) def. Jaden Tipps, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5; Chandler Steadman (Dillon) def. John Rodrigues, 6-2, 6-1.

Doubles: Mark Southam & Turner Sawyer (Dillon) def. Haacke & Tipps, 6-0, 6-0; Kole Lappe & Jett Mosher (Dillon) def. Braxton Craythorn & Sebestian Driver, 6-1, 6-0; Sam Jones & Eli Sherwood (Dillon) def. John Rodrigues & Paul Rodrigues, 6-0, 6-4.

Dillon Girls 4, Stevensville 3

Singles: Nicole Hritsco (Dillon) def. Jackie Westman, 6-4, 6-2; Ashlyn Sandall (Dillon) def. Ashley Eyre, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3; Brianne Bartschi (Stevi) def. Chiara Mastandrea, 6-1, 6-0; Maddie Weber (Stevi) def. Bella Glossa, 6-0, 6-0.

Doubles: Hritsco & Sandall (Dillon) def. Weber & Westman, 6-1, 6-3; Emily Hammack & Crystal St. Germain (Stevi) def. Mastandrea & Clossa, 6-1, 6-1; Riley Hall & Chiara Mastandrea (Dillon) def. Danielle Carella & Victoria Carella, 6-0, 6-0.

Dillon Boys 6, Hamilton 1

Singles: Bradley Rakich (Dillon) def. Alex Raymond, 5-1 (injury default); Mark Southam (Dillon) def. Ray Allison, 7-5, 7-5; Nathaniel Leonardson (Dillon) def. Sam Toenjes, 6-1, 6-3; Khang Truong (Hamilton) def. Chandler Steadman, 6-1, 6-0.

Doubles: Mark Southam & Turner Sawyer (Dillon) def. Cody Kirkbridge & Will Torres, 6-7, 6-1, 6-3; Kole Lappe & Jett Mosher (Dillon) def. Phil Melnarik & Bodie Hansen, 6-3, 0-6, 6-4; Sam James & Eli Sherwood (Dillon) def. Drew Lehtola & Ryan Craig, 6-2, 6-3.

Dillon Girls 4, Hamilton 3

Singles: Nicole Hritsco (Dillon) def. Sarah Trinh, 6-0, 6-2; Holly Mahon (Hamilton) def. Ashlyn Sandall, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4; Chiara Mastandrea (Dillon) won by forfeit; Bella Glossa (Dillon) won by forfeit.

Doubles: Nicole Hritsco & Ashlyn Sandall (Dillon) def. Colleen May & Mia Simatovic, 8-0; Lauren Kimzey & Claire Mathews (Hamilton) def. Riley Hall & Bella Glossa, 6-0, 6-0; Natalie Turner & Corrine Felton (Hamilton) def. Riley Hall & Bella Glossa, 6-0, 6-0.