When Butte High juniors Ellie Kuoppola and Destiny Soennichsen open the Class AA State tennis tournament Thursday in Kalispell, they won’t be looking at themselves as underdogs. (Brackets)
Actually, they don’t even feel like they’re appearance on the state’s biggest stage is even remotely a Cinderella story. They feel like they belong.
“I had a pretty good feeling we were going to make it,” Soennichsen said Wednesday, just before leaving for Kalispell. “We work very well together.”
Simply by looking at the Butte High team rankings throughout the season, though, and Kuoppola and Soennichsen heading to state as the Bulldogs only representatives seems, at best, improbable.
The duo was the No. 2 doubles team for the Butte High girls. Their path to fourth place at the Eastern AA Divisional meet last week in Billings included a victory over Butte High’s No. 1 tandem, Jaycee Sprunger and Caitlyn Sheehan.
Throughout the regular season, Kuoppola and Soennichsen were comfortably entrenched in the team’s No. 2 slot.
“They never challenged the ones,” Butte High coach Mavis Bentley said. “They should have. That’s up to them to challenge up.”
The two Butte High doubles teams played in a match that meant one team went to state and the other went home last Friday.
Bentley said she wasn’t shocked that her No. 2 team came out on top.
“I knew it was going to be close,” the coach said. “(Kuoppola and Soennichsen) played solid, and didn’t let emotion get in their way.”
Kuoppola and Soennichsen fell in a battle to Catherine Follet and Allison Johnson of Billings West in the third-place match. Still, Soennichsen said she is confident in her and Kuoppola’s chances at state.
“We’re definitely at our peaking point, and hopefully it’s just smooth sailing at state,” Soennichsen said. “We’re hoping to do really well.”
Bentley pointed out that the loss came in Kuoppola and Soennichsen’s sixth match of the two-day tournament, which was played in hot conditions. She said her team is going to be a tough out at state.
“They have great perseverance,” Bentley said. “They’re very good at coming back. They never give up. They’ve got great shots and they’re smart players. They know when to throw a lob up. They know when to go across court. They’re very smart like that.”
Kuoppola and Soennichsen will open against Helena High twins Bridget and Fiona Powers. The sisters won the Southern AA Divisional title last week in Bozeman.
Soennichsen said she has mixed emotions heading to state.
“I’m pumped because neither one of us has made state before,” she said. “But then I’m like, ‘They’re No. 1.’”
To win the tournament, or even to make a deep run, the Butte team is going to have to beat some good teams, so they’re not overwhelmed by the thought of taking on a top seed in the opening round.
“It’s going to be a tough team regardless of draw” Soennichsen said. “We have a good chance regardless of who the team is.”
Times are not set for the tournament, which could go well into the night on each of the two days. Because of weather, play could be moved into a four-court indoor facility.