WHITEFISH – Accustomed to the warm climate of coastal Chile, Renzo Caimi is beginning to understand the fickle, if not freezing, nature of high school tennis in Montana.
Caimi, a Chilean exchange student at Whitefish High School who was once ranked No. 3 nationally in junior tennis in his home country, has battled frigid temperatures this spring en route to an unblemished season record for the Bulldogs’ boys tennis team. Aside from the weather, he has rarely been challenged, consistently shutting out opponents.
“It’s a little cold for me,” said Caimi, smiling. “And it’s always windy.”
Caimi, a senior, leads a Whitefish team that finished second last year at the Class A state tournament and is undefeated so far this season. Junior Matt Harris, who was the state runner-up last year, has been nearly as dominant as Caimi for the Bulldogs, posting an undefeated record. Senior Trey LaGrandeur and sophomore Tanner Hosek round out Whitefish’s singles players.
The Bulldogs also have strong doubles teams, led by the senior tandem of Ryan Rottenbiller and Kyle Jacobson. Ian Hosek and Brendan Viscomi, both seniors, have also played well in doubles this season. The junior pair of Matt Whitehead and Zachariah Deister is the Bulldogs’ No. 3 doubles team.
With talent across the board, the Bulldogs are looking to take the state title home in late May. First, though, Whitefish needs to take care of business for the rest of the regular season and at divisionals from May 15 to May 17.
The boys will be tested at an invitational in Cut Bank the first weekend of May when they will face tough squads from Polson, Lewistown, Havre and Cut Bank.
“That will be a preview of our state competition,” said head coach Kathy Cummings. “I’m expecting some challenging competition.”
Though Cummings is obviously pleased with the boys’ performance this year, she still points to areas where they need to improve: serving and net play. Also, she stresses that no wins are guaranteed, even for the undefeated Harris and Caimi.
She said having Harris and Caimi is “a sense of security,” but nothing can be taken for granted.
“Any injury or anything can take that away,” Cummings said. “Anybody can be beaten on any given day.”
Despite only being in Whitefish for a one-year exchange, Caimi could head back to Chile with three Montana state championships under his belt if he gets both a singles and team title. In the fall, Caimi played on Whitefish’s undefeated state champion boys soccer team.
The player Harris lost to in the state championship last year, Jordan Hatzell, transferred from Billings Central to Class AA Billings West this season, leaving the door open for the Class A crown. Harris, who would have been a lock for Whitefish’s No. 1 spot had Caimi not arrived, said he has enjoyed playing with his Chilean counterpart.
“I kind of like being top dog but I’ve got a really good player ahead of me,” Harris said.
Harris and Caimi push each other in practice scrimmages, though they don’t play one another in match play. But Harris hopes that changes in the state tournament. He’s already eyeing the championship match.
“I’m planning on seeing him there,” Harris said, adding that Caimi is “nearly impossible” to beat.
Cummings said it’s good for Harris and Caimi to push each other.
“It’s been fun watching them challenge each other and I see that’s what they’re doing,” she said.
Harris said that across the board, in both doubles and singles, “it’s all coming together” for the Bulldogs as they enter the stretch run of the regular season. He knows they have targets on their backs as the team to beat, which is fine with him.
“It’s nice to be in the spotlight,” Harris said. “Everyone’s just looking at you to see what you’re doing – it’s kind of a cool feeling.”
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