KALISPELL — While the sky was overcast Friday, the afternoon could not have been much brighter for Billings Senior's tennis programs.
The Broncs swept the boys' and girls' team titles at the annual state meet at Flathead Valley Community College — with an asterisk attached to the girls' title. The Senior shared their crown with Bozeman, who has won or tied for top honors seven years in a row.
The Senior boys, on the other hand, ended Bozeman's string of two straight team titles.
"We haven't had a singles champ from Senior since 2005 and a team title also since 2005, so it's huge," said Broncs sophomore Jesse Dimich-Louvet, who topped off his dream week with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Missoula Big Sky's Liam Johnson in the boys' singles final.
"That was the plan when I moved back from France (last year). I was like, let's have Senior win a tennis title again."
Dimich-Louvet, who spent the last five years living in Paris, said his cross country running experience helped him get over the hump Friday. He had some grueling matches at state, including a three-setter with Sentinel's Jake Treece in the quarterfinals Thursday.
"Three days ago I did not think I was going to be in this situation," Dimich-Louvet said. "But I just dealt with the pressure nicely and I thought, 'Why not me?'
"When you're used to running three miles and your brain is out, it helps in these kind of matches when you're playing two or three hours. If you can run a cross-country race then you can play on a court for four hours."
In girls' doubles, the day belonged to Missoula Hellgate's Olivia Panarella and Hannah Worden. The unbeaten duo steamrolled to state supremacy with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Billings Senior's Makenzy Gilsdorf/Annie Woods.
It was state title No. 2 for Worden, a junior who made up half of Sentinel's state champion doubles team two years ago. For Panarella, it felt like a long time coming after she and her older sister, Sofia, came so close to taking state gold in singles and doubles over the past few years.
"I think that experience had a ton to do with this," Panarella said. "In past years I've really let anger get ahead of me and that's definitely my fatal flaw with tennis. Having Hannah on the court, she's a real calming presence for me and I think that was integral to our wins."
From the time she arrived on the Missoula prep tennis scene two years ago, Worden has shown uncanny poise in big matches. But she'll tell you looks can be deceiving.
"I do get very nervous, but going into this with Liv, I had so much confidence," said Worden, who together with Panarella did not drop a set at state. "I just knew we were going to take it home. Every once in a while I'd get super tensed up. But then I'd look at Liv or we'd make a good shot and it was fine."
The final game of the state title match is one that will live on for Panarella and Worden. They had the match well in hand, but it took a long time for Panarella to hold once the game went to deuce. The game was symbolic of the Hellgate team's motto to not give an inch.
"I just thought, 'Thank God,'" Panarella said of the final point. "I had been serving real well but I let my nerves get the best of me for a little bit. Hannah said to me, 'Just do it.' And we just did it."
In boys' doubles Missoula's Ethan Violette and Cody Curtis struggled to get on track, especially in the serving department, and were upset 6-3, 6-2 by Bozeman's Jackson Pedersen and Andrija Martinovic. It was only the second time all season the Spartan duo fell to defeat.
"We really just learned to click with each other," said Pedersen, who has only been playing with the Serbian foreign exchange student Martinovic for three weeks. "We've gone through some ups and downs mentally. But we clicked at state.
"We became more confident hitting our returns and serves. That's where we dominate the most is our serves and returns. It really sets up our net game."
The award for most persistent champion Friday had to go to Bozeman's Heather Sikoski. She beat Maria Frampton of Kalispell Glacier in a marathon semifinal, 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-1. Then she regrouped and beat Mackenzie George of Great Falls CMR in the girls' singles title match, 6-2, 7-6 (3).