By Bill Foley
A year ago, Butte High tennis coach was looking for anybody to come out for her team.
“I just wanted warm bodies,” she said.
This year, Butte High’s tennis program is 33 strong as the Bulldogs open the season. The coach said those players are showing improvement already, too.
“Everyone has made some real progress in these two weeks, which is nice to see,” Joyce said. “I’m optimistic.”
The team’s first action is Saturday in Billings. The Class AA Billings and Great Falls schools will compete, starting at 10 a.m. (Schedule)
Butte High has more than twice as many boys out for the team from last year. Still, that is only eight players.
Joyce said those boys show promise.
Thad Holdsworth, who won a state title in swimming in February, is the lone senior on the boys’ side. He is one of several players who will miss the first meet because of a play, however.
Sophomore Isaac King is back after nearly qualifying for the Class AA State tournament as a freshman. He is now one of the elder statesmen playing for the Bulldog boys.
Other boys out for the team are Sophomores Charles Thompson, Torre Tempel and Kershaw Mellott and freshmen Sam Sampson, Jason Johns and Cole Skeel.
“Those freshmen, Sam and Jason and Torre, they’ve caught on really quickly,” Joyce said. “Isaac was good last year. If he can keep it together, he’ll have a great year.”
Junior Ashlyn Burnett is back to lead the 25 girls playing for the Bulldogs. She placed third in singles at the Western A Divisionals to qualify for the Class AA State meet, which was played in Great Falls.
Brooke McGrath is back after just missing out on a trip to state with doubles partner Ayrika Gerry, who graduated last June. This year, McGrath will play with volleyball teammate and fellow senior Katie Keller.
“Katie has really improved,” Joyce said. “She is much more aggressive and knows where to go on the doubles court.”
Joyce said she is going to switch up her lineups early in the season to find the right combinations. Some players will play singles and doubles on Saturday, she said.
The coach has high hopes for her girls’ squad.
“They’re good athletes,” she said. “They can just move.”
Other seniors on the Bulldog roster are Ashley Olson, Isabel Russo, Carley Trefts, Savanna Challeen, Sage Murphy, Murphy Sullivan and Mia McCarthy.
Jerica Hamberg, Taylor Rangitsch and Frankie Cox are juniors out for the team that includes sophomores Emry Lee, Maddie Luedtke, Rebecca Radoicich, Maya Dara and Kaicee Liva. Freshmen out for the team are Kendyllen “Gussey” Lean, Jaycee Cleveland, Ellie Cunneen, Shelbie Byrnes, Corinne Fredlund, Elli Quist and Sydney Whitaker.
Butte High’s schedule includes two home dates this season. The Bulldogs and Helena will take on Billings May 7 at Stodden Park. Three days later, Missoula Big Sky will come to town for a dual.
The divisional tournament, which was first scheduled for Butte, was moved to Missoula because the courts were overbooked. That tournament will be held May 19-20.
The Class AA State tournament, which is set for May 25-27, will also be held in Missoula.