The Lady Bulldogs are Class A state champions.
Whitefish tennis put the finishing touches on an exceptional season during the Class A State Tournament last week, coming away with singles and doubles champions as well as the overall team title.
Head coach Patrick Dryden said he expected to compete hard, but he knew they were up against some tough competition.
“It was outstanding. Coming into the tournament, I just felt like it was going to come down to Hardin and Polson, but when the dust settled, there we were with the championship,” he said.
Sophomore Gracie Smyley finished her season undefeated, taking down Livingston’s Bobbi Limi in the title match 7-5, 6-3.
Dryden said the title was just another success in a dominant season for Smyley.
“It was pretty amazing, she only lost one set all year. Then to go undefeated and cap it off with divisional and state titles — you can’t play any better than that,” he said. “She doesn’t get enough credit for her intellect on the court. She’s really calculating.”
Moving through the bracket, it looked as if Smyley would take on either defending champion Shea McGuinness of Polson of Hannah Schweikert of Columbia Falls, but Limi upset both to make it to the title match.
“Limi had an outstanding tournament and she really battled Gracie in the championship. Gracie cruised through the first three rounds. Limi had a really tough draw and she gave Gracie everything she could. The harder Gracier hit it, the harder it came back at her,” he said.
On the doubles side, the team of Olivia Potthoff and Aubrey Hanks improved on last year’s third place finish, defeating Polson’s Berkley Ellis and Qia Harlin 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the championship.
“They’re a couple of goofballs and I just love their attitude,” Dryden said of his doubles team. “They’re very dedicated, they put in a lot of hard work and extra time. But when they’re on the court you can see they’re very relaxed and confident and enjoying themselves. They took third last year so expectations were pretty high. In the last two years they’re 9-1 at the state tournament, and they haven’t even seen their senior year.”
One of the team’s biggest matches was taking down the tournament favorites, Katie Murdock and Makiko Reisig from Hardin.
“They were undefeated on the season, that was their only loss all year,” Dryden said of the Hardin duo.
The doubles team of Payton Kastella and Jesse Grawunder fell in two tough matches on day one, losing to Kodie Vondra and Sylvie Schoenen of Livingston 6-2, 6-4 and Hardin’s Murdock and Makiko 6-2, 6-4.
While Kastella and Grawunder didn’t place, Dryden said they still come away with something of value from the tournament.
“They got some really valuable experience,” he said. “Their two losses were to No. 1 seeds from the east and central. They got to see what the best in state looks like, and it’s going to help them in the future.”
Dryden also pointed to key contributions from his No. 2 singles player — contributions made without stepping foot on the court.
Claire Carloss took second at divisionals last year but missed the cut this year.
Dryden called Carloss “the perfect teammate” for the way she cheered on the players in the state tournament.
“She was very positive, very inspiring to be around, and she’s going to have a big year next year. I think that shows a lot about your character, it’s not really about when you win but when you lose and face adversity. I don’t think anybody would ever question Claire’s character,” he said.
This year’s title is the first since 2016, Dryden said, and this team was something special.
“I’d have to describe the team as very calm and confident, driven and dedicated. I just think they were having fun, I’ve never had a team that’s gotten along the way these guys have,” he said.
Without any seniors on the team, the Lady Dogs should be poised for another big season next spring as well.
“Next year I imagine we’re going to have a target on our back, but that’s deserving,” Dryden said.
Dryden credits the boys tennis program’s success as a motivating factor for his girls.
“I think the success the boys have had the last couple years has been really inspiring to the girls. They really fed on the boys’ energy,” he said.
Likewise, he noted how special it was to have two different girls championships in the same season, as the girls track team also won state just a day later.
“That’s pretty remarkable. I’m not sure when that last happened in the state of Montana.”
Class A State Tennis at FVCC
Gracie Smyley (Whitefish) def. Tricia Joyce (Havre) 6-0, 6-2; Bobbi Lima (Livingston) def. Shea McGuinness (Polson) 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
Hannah Schweikert (Columbia Falls) def. Eliana Foss (Hamilton) 7-6 (7), 6-0; Emma Putnam (Billings Central) def. Madeline DeLeo 6-0, 6-2; Schweikert (W) def. Tricia Joyce (Butte Central) 6-1, 6-1; McGuinness (P) def. Putnam 6-3, 6-3.
Joyce (Butte Central) def. Putnam 6-2, 6-0.
Schweikert (W) def. McGuinness 6-0, 6-2.
Smyley (W) def. Lima 7-5, 6-3.
Aubrey Hanks/Olivia Potthoff (Whitefish) def. Ara Mercer/Megan Rost (Polson) 6-4, 6-4; Berkley Ellis/Qia Harlan (Polson) def. Kodie Vondra/Sylvie Schoenen (Livingston) 7-6 (7), 6-2.
Cailei Cummins/Deidra Don’t Mix (Hardin) def. Macie Flamm/Rilee Green (Hardin) 6-4, 6-1; Katie Murdock/Makiko Reisig (Hardin) def. Megan Kirkland/Christina Weidkamp (Corvallis) 6-0, 6-3; Murdock/Reisig (Hardin) def. Vondra/Syvie Schoenen 7-6 (7), 6-2.
Vondra/Schoenen (Livingston) def. Mercer/Rost 6-1, 6-2.
Murdock/Reisig (Hardin) def. Cummins/Don’t Mix 6-0, 6-1.
Hanks/Potthoff (W) def. Ellis/Harlan 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.tennis