Today, Missoula Sentinel's Ristine Olson will try to win her fourth-consecutive Class AA girls singles title. If she's able to nab it, Olson will join one other girl to accomplish that feat — Rochelle Auer.
Auer completed the four-peat from 1992-95 while playing for Billings West. Having coached Auer and having watched Olson over the course of the past four seasons, Billings West coach Steve Handley knows both are special talents. But it begs a question.
Who would win a hypothetical match between the two?
"I would hate to speculate," Handley said of the dream matchup. "Their styles of play are extremely different. Rochelle had an uncanny ability to dictate points, it seemed almost without any effort. Ristine's game is very aggressive and very athletic. It would be difficult to match them up.
"I don't know how it would end up. But it sure would be fun to watch."
Olson entered Friday with a 92-0 career record. Auer only lost two matches in her career (both to Billings Central exchange student Vanessa Castellano), but went unbeaten in four years of AA competition.
— Greg Rachac
Handley chasing Megerth As coach of the Billings West girls' tennis team for over 20 years, Handley has captured 10 state championships, the last of which came last spring.
Handley had always had a goal of reaching 10 team championships, and has often thought what it would be like to match his former coach, colleague and tennis mentor Roger Megerth, who won 14 state titles as coach of the boys team at West.
But when talking about it, Handley kind of laughs it off as if it were impossible.
"That's the state record," said Handley, whose first season as coach was in 1981. "I'd love to (catch him), but it gets tougher and tougher. The competition is better around the state than it has been. Other teams are capable now. Plus, I don't think I'm young enough.
"I guess my goal would be to tie him. I'm not sure I'd ever want to beat him. It's sort of a personal thing. It's almost like following in his footsteps, to live up to certain expectations."
Megerth began coaching tennis at West in 1962. His boys won their first state title in 1971 and captured 11 of 12 team titles at state from 1978-1989. West's other team titles came in 1975 and 1976. Megerth was named the Region 7 tennis coach of the year three times ( 1983, 1987, 1992).
— Greg Rachac
Scheduling is no snafu To the casual observer, the scheduling for the state tennis tournament might seem a bit odd.
After all, the championship matches for both boys and girls singles and doubles are played at the same time, and are followed by the consolation matches. All of that could appear anticlimactic.
But Billings Senior boys coaches Dave Klarich and Randy Jacobs wouldn't exactly agree with that notion.
"It's a built-in flaw," Klarich explained. "When kids come back to play in the (consolation) matches, they've come through a longer, more extended road. They need those rest times, and there's really no way around it."
"Nobody around here has ever really thought of it as anticlimactic. It's the way it's been done forever, and it's the right way," Jacobs said. "Besides, you never know when those consolation matches are going to decide a team championship."
Rest would certainly be important for players who have to potentially play three matches in an afternoon. But what about from a spectators point of view? Don't the fans want to be able to watch the championship matches one at a time?
"If I had my way, I might want to play them one-at-a-time," Klarich said.
"But then again, you have a problem where schools are 500 miles away," Jacobs added. "So you have to accommodate everybody. When you look at it that way, it's not too bad of a deal."
— Greg Rachac
Thinking of Duffy Though his team finished the season unbeaten in duals and invitationals, Klarich said there was one down note for the Broncs.
"The one real disappointment I've had all season is that Chad Duffy did not make it to the state tournament," said Klarich.
Duffy, a senior, is paralyzed on the right side of his body due to a stroke he suffered at birth. Though he has no use of his right arm and very limited use of his right leg, he enjoyed a successful three-year varsity career for the Broncs and held the No. 2 singles position for the past two seasons.
Duffy qualified for the state tournament last year, but fell one win short of a repeat state berth at last weekend's Eastern AA divisional tournament.
"Chad had a great season … he had a great won-lost record and came up with some very big wins for us this season," said Klarich. "It's unfortunate that he's not playing this weekend, but Chad gave it everything he had last weekend … I know that and he knows that."
— Mike Zimmer
Bubble comes up big Though the MSU-Billings tennis bubble will be used today only as a last resort, the facility is the sole reason the tournament is being held in Billings.
The State AA tournament has been held in Bozeman for the past decade because it had been the only city with four indoor courts that could be used in the event of rain. But with the completion of the bubble last spring, Billings now has seven available indoor courts — four at MSU-Billings and three at Yellowstone Racquet Club.
"(MSU-Billings coach) Jerry Peach and his facility are the reason we were able to put in a bid to host the tournament," said Klarich. "The thanks goes to Jerry for getting his facility built and to (District 2 athletic director) Dave Williams for agreeing to bid for the tournament.
"Hopefully we'll be able to host the tournament on a regular basis now."
— Mike Zimmer
Pioneer courts quiet While the state's best tennis players are playing in Billings this weekend, one of the state's best outdoor tennis facilities sits quiet.
Pioneer Park, with its nine courts, is not being used for the State AA tournament because the courts are in dire need of resurfacing.
"There's no way we could have played at Pioneer," said Handley. "The courts are unplayable for a tournament of this caliber."
Klarich said when Billings put in the bid to host this year's tournament, it was with the understanding that the courts at Pioneer Park would be resurfaced and that Pioneer Park would be the tournament headquarters.
But he said the city has not yet allocated funds for the resurfacing project.
"It's a shame to have a setting like Pioneer Park and not be able to use it," said Klarich. "The original plan was to hold a good share of the tournament at Pioneer and to play all the finals there.
"Hopefully (the resurfacing) will get done in the next year or so … I know the Billings tennis community is trying to raise money for it, but the city is going to have to step in and help out."
— Mike Zimmer