By Bill Foley
When Butte High’s tennis team opens the season Saturday against Missoula Big Sky, look for lots of new names and faces.
The Bulldogs are in rebuilding mode as they look to find replacements for the 18 seniors lost from last year’s boys’ and girls’ teams that were among the more competitive Butte High squads in recent years.
“That’s 75 percent of my team,” long-time Butte High coach Mavis Bentley said. “We just got hit hard, and I had a great team last year.”
The Bulldogs take on the Eagles at noon on the courts at Stodden and Father Sheehan parks. Singles players will battle at Father Sheehan, while doubles teams will play at Stodden. The meet is only one of two scheduled for home this season.
While the Bulldogs, who will share a conference with Bozeman and both Helena schools this season, aren’t expected to bring home a team trophy at the Class AA State tournament, Bentley is expecting some good things from some promising individuals.
The coach’s son, junior Brett Bentley, is one of those individuals. Bentley is the lone returner with experience at the state tournament after qualifying for the big dance in singles last year.
Bentley will play singles against Big Sky. That, however, might not be where his future lies this season.
Coach Bentley is tinkering with the idea of using two of her three top singles players in doubles, meaning Brett Bentley, sophomore Erik Casagranda and senior Braden Loyola could play doubles. Which combination of those three has yet to be decided.
Casagranda and Loyola will play varsity singles this weekend, as will sophomore Connor Stanghill.
Returning senior Tyler Ossello will team with sophomore Alex Kober in the No. 1 doubles spot in the time being.
Bentley pointed out that Kober is a tall, fearless hockey player.
“He isn’t afraid of anything at the net,” Bentley said. “I’ve got a lot of good athletes out.”
Senior Dyllan Lane, and sophomore Riley Walsh will play No. 1 doubles, followed by freshmen Zach Johnson and Andrew Kober and sophomores John Berryman and Erik Rosa.
The Bulldogs only have 15 boys on the roster, one of the smallest rosters in recent history.
“I’ve never been this low with the boys,” coach Bentley said.
Other Butte High boys looking to find court time are sophomore Michael Kalarchik, junior Austin Lee and senior Kaleb Staudohar.
On the girls’ side, the Bulldogs will be formidable on top. We know that from experience.
Senior Hannah Amtmann takes over the No. 1 spot full time after just missing the state tournament last year.
“She has the fire driving her,” coach Bentley said of Amtmann. “She is highly competitive.”
Senior Jessica Rosa is back after an injury derailed her junior year. Rosa will step into the No. 2 spot to start the season that will be shortened because of a four-week academic trip to Germany in the works.
For now, sophomore Cameron Cassidy will play No. 3, while sophomore Maya Robins will play No. 4. Sophomore Emmalee Hildreth could also crack the varsity lineup in singles. She doesn’t have enough practices in to play this weekend, though.
The No. 1 doubles team will be experienced juniors Madi Jones and Jacee Sprunger.
Junior Caitlyn Sheehan and sophomore Hayley Boyd will play No. 2 doubles, followed by freshman Ellie Kaoppala and junior Alyssa Cook at No. 3 and freshmen Devin Amtmann and Riley Duffy at No. 4.
Butte High has 25 girls out for the team. Other girls competing for playing time will be freshmen Avery Cooney, Abigail Johnson, Lexie Kautzman, Faith Kelly, Aspen Lovshin and Sierra Meza; and sophomores Sidney Christie, Amber Durkin, Jayde Hazlett, Keeley Pochervina and Leah Rintala.
“It’s a good group of kids,” Bentley said.
For the first time in years, Bentley will be without assistant coach Jennie Reilly, who decided to retire after last season. Former Butte High No. 1 singles player Kody Lane, who was previously a volunteer assistant, takes over as the top assistant.
After taking on Big Sky, the Bulldogs will play in the Five B’s meet in Bozeman on April 7. Butte High’s only other home match is April 23 when Helena Capital and Helena High come to town to take on Butte High and Bozeman.
The divisional tournament is set for May 12-13 in Helena. State is May 19-20 in Great Falls.