The Whitefish boys tennis team missed winning a state championship last year by two points – doesn’t get much closer than that.
Coming off that performance the boys team is hungry for more and looking for another shot at taking the State A title.
According to head coach Chris Schwaderer, the players are looking good and in great form ahead of their first matches this week.
“They’re starting the season in great form… in a short season like we have here you have to really be on it – this group is on it,” Schwaderer said.
He added that several players on the team have put in a lot of time working on their game in the offseason and played with the team periodically throughout the winter months indoors in Kalispell.
“There’s a lot of buy-in,” he said. “The kids love tennis and they want to be down there working on their game whenever they can.”
The team is senior-heavy with six returning seniors. The seniors includes Neil Bernat, Joe Brandt, Aaron Dicks, Austin Gunset, Highland Lee-French and Fin Stagg.
Though lineups are still shaking out, Schwaderer believes Brandt will likely lead the team on the singles side. He qualified for state last year and has steadily improved since.
“He has worked really hard, he wants another shot at it,” Schwaderer said of Brandt. “… I have a lot of confidence that he’s at that point where he’s ready to be a serious singles player.”
On the doubles side, last year Lee-French and Dicks paired up and placed second in the Western A Divisionals and fourth at the state tournament. Both return and could make up the No. 1 doubles team again, but Schwaderer is still making adjustments to see what would be best for the players and the team. Another doubles team from last year was Gunset and Stagg, who both play well together and have a great attitude according to the coach.
“At the end of the day it’s a team game, our goal is where we are going to be at divisionals and state and what kind of configurations do we need to be a strong team,” Schwaderer said.
He added that Bernat played junior varsity last year, but has worked hard to improve his game and earn a varsity spot.
“He’s one who has really wanted it, he’s put in time…” Schwaderer expressed. “He’s a real success story coming from JV and he’s going to be a serious contributor as a varsity player this year.”
Though lineups are still up in the air, Schwaderer says the team has good chemistry and a lot of these guys have been playing together for a while.
As far as goals, the coach says after coming so close to a state title the team is focusing on improvements that will help in the most important matches. That includes playing smart tennis and being able to read the game.
“After taking second, one thing that we’ve really worked on is kind of a head-game thing. Now that we’re a little older, a little more mature we’ve thought about how we can control the game more. “
To begin the season, Whitefish will match up with Columbia Falls on Thursday at the Riverside Courts. Then the boys will travel to Polson to take on Dillon and Polson on Saturday.