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Alex Raymond

Hamilton senior Alex Raymond has some unfinished business at the State A tennis meet. He finished second in boys' singles last May and will try to earn gold in his final bid at state. The meet will be held in Polson and Ronan on Thursday and will conclude with the finals in Polson Friday.

POLSON — Considering he's been coaching tennis at Polson for close to three decades, it's safe to say Bob Hislop is an authority when it comes to Montana's Class A ranks.

The excitement of the annual state meet never gets old for the Pirates' Hall of Fame skipper. And he'd like nothing more than to lead his girls to a team title at home when the State A meet starts Thursday in Polson and Ronan.

"We're pretty excited about the opportunity they have," Hislop told 406mtsports.com. "We've gone to state the last two years as probably one of the (team) favorites and it hasn't panned out.

"I'm pretty high on them. Kyler (Lundeen) and Berkley (Ellis), they're tough. They haven't been beaten yet. They're a high-energy doubles team, very consistent and they defend well and finish well. Shae (McGuinness) hasn't lost, either. She's the singles surgeon. She likes figuring out people and what they're doing on the court."

The first rounds of the State A girls' meet will be played in Ronan Thursday. The boys' meet will start in Polson Thursday and all the semifinals and finals will be held in Polson on Friday, weather permitting. If there's rain, meet officials have the option of moving the event to the indoor courts in Kalispell.

Even with his undefeated players, Hislop is not about to install his girls' team as the favorite because there are so many unknowns. The Pirates lost some key meets because of rain, so it's hard to say exactly how they stack up against contenders like Corvallis, Livingston, Hardin and Billings Central.

"Livingston is pretty well set up," Hislop noted. "They've got a lot of depth with six girls at state. Corvallis also has a good shot (with five)."

The Blue Devils are led by rock-steady Olivia Fehr. Joining her on the list of top singles contenders are McGuiness, Livingston's Raegan Smith, Billings Central's Emma Putnam and Dillon's Nicole Hristsco. Putnam enjoyed the best finish at state last year, reaching the semifinal round before settling for fifth.

The doubles field is wide open. Stevensville's Erin Bartlett and Jackie Westman nearly knocked off Lundeen and Ellis earlier this month, losing 7-5 in the third set. Whitefish has a dangerous team in Aubrey Hanks and Olivia Potthoff. Livingston has two doubles teams in Katherine Kant/Bobbi Lima and Sylvie Schoenen/Kodie Vondra) and the Corvallis duo of Connie Watt and Claire Pickett will be a tough out.

As for the boys, Hardin has strength in numbers with two singles players and three doubles teams in the field. At divisionals the Bulldogs went 1-2-3 in doubles and finished first and fourth in singles.

Hardin's doubles team of Rickey Hill and Jonathan Noteboom is among the favorites to mine gold. They'll be challenged by the likes of Caleb Warnken and Gabe DeLeo of Corvallis, Trey Murphy and Kennedy McKay of Havre and Mark Anderson and Forrest Kohelt of Whitefish.

Dillon has arguably the strongest boys' singles player in Brad Rakich. Whitefish has a strong contender in Brendan Buls and no one is going to look past Hamilton's Alex Raymond, who lost a three-set marathon in last year's state final to Simon Marshall of Billings Central, who graduated in 2017.

"Raymond hasn't been healthy this year," Hislop noted, "but it only takes one weekend."

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Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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