By Bill Foley
If you look out the window or at the ground in and around the Mining City, it almost seems comical to think that the Butte High and Butte Central tennis teams will be in action Saturday.
That, however, is the case as the Bulldogs and Maroons open the season on the road.
Butte High will play Billings Skyview and Billings West. Butte Central will head to Dillon to take on the Beavers in a Southwestern A battle. Action begins at 10 a.m. in both locations.
Of course, the schedule is followed with those two words that always dominate the spring season. Weather permitting.
The Maroons and Bulldogs hit the road both in the same boat. Neither team has stepped on an actual tennis court in the three weeks of practice leading up to the season.
The will be playing teams that have been able to practice on real courts, at least a little bit.
“It’s crazy,” second-year Butte High coach Dorothy Joyce said. “We’ve been mostly doing cardio at practice. It will be a lot of fun on Saturday.”
The Bulldogs have been practicing at the West Elementary gymnasium, while Butte Central has been practicing in the gym at the high school.
Hancock said the Maroons are stacking benches on top of each other to serve as a net.
That came after BC gave shoveling the snow off the courts at Father Sheehan Park proved to be too big of a task.
“We tried to shove a couple of times, but it wasn’t very productive,” Hancock said with a laugh. “We’re working on getting our ground strokes and learning the game. Saturday will be an eye opener for a lot of them.”
Butte High learned that attempting to shovel the courts at West Elementary only made the probable worse last year, and there is more snow this year.
Both teams bring back some experience and good numbers. Central has 22 players (13 girls and nine boys), while Butte High’s roster includes 35 players (20 girls and 15 boys). The Bulldog boys, though, will be down six players this weekend because of hockey and wrestling tournaments.
Joyce said setting her lineup has been difficult since her team hasn’t been able to play actual tennis yet.
“We’re just kind of going with the kids who played last year,” she said of her varsity lineup for Saturday. “We went with experience. There’s no way you can make a ladder.”
Ten of Butte High’s boys’ players are seniors. They are Aidan Francisco, Kryptin Bercier, Zach Johnson, Ahmed Khalil, Andrew Kober, Kellen Lean, Russell Park, Carsten Quam, Kolby Raiha and Abe Shaw. Juniors Ethan Edwards, Dillon Ferry and Joe Sandoval and sophomore Karson McGrath round out the Bulldog boys’ lineup.
“We’ve got good boys coming back, but we don’t have a lot of depth,” Joyce said.
Seniors Devin Amtmann, Riley Duffy, Emily Kelly, Aspen Lovshin, Sierra Meza, Kiera O’Boyle and Payton Pendergast lead the Bulldogs into action.
Joyce said Kelly is showing promise in what will be her first season on the Bulldog team. She transferred to Butte from Helena before her junior year, then suffered an ACL tear that prevented her from playing tennis last year.
Other Butte High girls on the roster are juniors Madison Bailey, Sydney Doyle, Kaylinn Fields and Zoe Myers, sophomores Chloe Brown, Ayrika Gerry, Abby Kelly, Kennedy Lean, Page Stepper, Maisy Taylor and Shandelle Whelan, and freshmen Sevanna Challeen and Carley Trefts.
Senior Tricia Joyce and junior Guido Ossello bring state tournament experience to the BC roster. Ossello, who played at state with doubles partner Cameron Johnson last May, will start out playing with Aidan Petritz, BC’s lone boy senior, in doubles he will also play singles.
Joyce played at state two years ago with teammate Emily St. John. She just missed out on a trip to state in singles last year.
“It’s been her year for everything else,” Hancock said of Joyce, the Class A state golf champion and Southwestern A basketball co-MVP. “She’s pretty pumped, I think. Why not go out with a bang on all three sports?”
Junior exchange student David Granell will be the No. 1 singles player. He played through injury issues last year. Juniors Max Drew and Luke Heaphy, sophomore John Fisher and freshmen Drew Badovinac, Gage Guldseth and Bryson Sestrich will round out the boys’ roster.
Seniors Shea Davis and Prestynn Weldon bring experience to the BC lineup, along with juniors Tess Riordan and Sophie Sullivan.
Experienced sophomores Sophia Burton, Delaney Hasquet and Avery Kelly will round out the roster along with sophomores Marissa Anderson, Mati McGree and freshmen Sydnie Byrnes, Payton Hartwick and Sage Wall.
Like with Butte High, Hancock said she isn’t sure about her lineup just yet.
“I have a lot of kids who are new to the game,” the coach said of the Maroons, who lost 10 players from last year. “There’s going to be a lot of learning. It will be great for us to get some playing time an d see where everyone stands.”
Because the Stodden Park tennis courts will not be ready for use this season, the Bulldogs will play their second season in a row without a home date.
Butte High will compete along with the Billings, Great Falls and Helena schools in the May 9-10 divisional tournament in Helena. The Class AA State tournament is the following week in Great Falls.
The Maroons will head to Hamilton and Corvallis for the Southwestern A Divisional tournament May 16-18. The Class A State tournament is May 23-24 in Kalispell.