By JASON BLASCO, Lake County Leader
To understand the fiercely competitive landscape of Montana High School girls tennis take a glance at Polson Lady Pirates No. 1 Shea McGuinness’s win-loss record this year.
Last season, McGuinness went virtually unchallenged and won over 30-consecutive matches on her way to capturing the Montana High School Class A state singles championship.
McGuinness, who faced Whitefish’s No. 1 singles player Gracie Smyley, earned the respect of Whitefish tennis coach Chris Schwaderer, who was very complimentary of McGuinness’s play, according to Pirates coach Bob Hislop.
Smyley, a transfer from the state of Florida, is one of the perennial favorites to capture a Montana High School Association state singles title this season but challenged by McGuinness.
“There were 10 or 15 shot rallies, and (Shea) competed with Gracey point after point,” Hislop said. “Even though she fell short on the better portion of those rallies, moving forward if you are realistic and if you are a positive person, you look at two points here, or two points there, and (your perspective) begins to change. The more you win those points, the pressure gets tighter on the other person, and it becomes harder to win.”
The Lady Pirates, who are the defending MHSA team champions from the 2018 season, hope to have an opportunity to defend their title, and it will start with the Montana High School Association Northwestern-A Divisionals May 17-18 in Columbia Falls.
Some of the top-tier teams that will contend with Polson for the MSHA crown include Hardin, Whitefish, Corvallis, Dillon.
“Our division is just stacked in singles and doubles,” Hislop said.
The Pirates have one of the top doubles teams emerging in Berkley Ellis and Qia Harlan. The pair won a tight three-set match against one of the top Whitefish doubles teams.
“(Berkley and Qia) had a great year, they understand each other and they play well together,” Hislop said. Hislop said he’s noticed improvement from Megan Rost, Ara Mercer, Sarah Kinzel, Taylor Bloomfield, and Taylor Collinge.
“Those four girls have all played a ton, Sarah and Taylor are only sophomores, and they are still learning the game,” Hislop said. “Learning tennis is a lot of hard work, and it’s pretty complex. The next couple of years are going to be fun. You have to some patience, and you can’t string them along too fast. These players have to bring themselves up to speed, and when they are ready for that will be the fun part.”
Pirates get ready for the next step
The Polson High School boys tennis team got an opportunity for a tune-up with Whitefish before entering the Montana High School Association Northwest-A Divisionals in Columbia Falls on May 17-18.
Both of the Whitefish girls and boys teams are two of the top-tier teams in tennis, and Pirates coach Bob Hislop admits his team won’t face too many opponents tougher than them heading into the postseason.
The Pirates boys team, by Hislop’s admission, is young and inexperienced, but continues to grow from their experiences in recent matches.
“We had some rough losses, but at the same token, (our team) had some nice wins,” Hislop said. “Some of the kids that lost in individual and single games really showed their mettle and played way better in the dual session. I like what happened, and how the kids competed.”
Hislop said he was pleased with the performance of his top-three boys singles players and how they responded to playing the Bulldogs, one of the top-tier teams in the state of Montana.
The Pirates, who are getting ready to enter Divisional competition, have continued to get a strong performance from their No. 1 player Joe McDonald.
“Joe did a nice job and is almost in every game,” Hislop said. “It was just a matter of winning, getting more seasoned, trying to win those points and playing up to your potential.”
Hislop said he was also pleased with the performance of Matt Hobbs, who played a tough match against a future University of Montana Grizzly football player, and showcased his athleticism in the loss.
The Pirates will take the next step as they continue to march forward into the postseason and will face new challenges in their quest to qualify for state, both as individuals and as a team.
“During the tournament format, there are a lot of changes,” Hislop said. “Divisionals are different, and playing at state is monumentally different.”