The State Champs Return

By Beacon Staff

In many ways, this year’s Glacier High School tennis team is intimidating, if not downright frightening for opponents.

The girls return a lineup of state qualifiers from last season’s Class AA state championship team, including the defending doubles champion and two frontrunners for the singles title. They have also added another singles player who could compete for the title. Last year’s Wolfpack squad was the best in Montana, and this year’s is better.

For the boys, sophomore Kellen Bates is back to defend his Class AA singles title. As a freshman, Bates went undefeated en route to the crown. He never even lost a set. In 2011, it’s not going to be any easier for opponents to win a match – or set – against him.

Brandon Simpson blasts a ball across the gym during a Glacier High School tennis practice indoors at Kalispell Middle School.

And even some of Glacier’s athletes who haven’t proven themselves on the varsity level yet are fairly intimidating. Take sophomore Ryan Edwards for example.

Edwards may still have a long ways to go in honing his overall game, but he’s nearly 7-feet tall. At 6-10 with long arms, he can cover much of the court without moving, and waiting on the receiving end of his serves could stir up a little anxiety.

Last week, both the Wolfpack girls and boys were practicing inside the Kalispell Middle School gymnasium, waiting for enough sun to clear snow off their outdoor practice courts. But when Glacier opens up its season at home against CM Russell and Great Falls High at Flathead Valley Community College on April 2, Munro expects his kids to be ready.

The girls are the clear-cut favorite in Class AA this year. In doubles, Cami Mathison and Veronica Walton will try to defend their state crown. Last year, they lost only one match all season long.

In singles, senior Liana Bates, the older sister of Kellen Bates, has finished second the past three years. But her nemesis Ellie Crum of Great Falls High, the winner of the past two state titles, has graduated, leaving the door open for Bates.

Munro expects Bates’ main competition to come from three girls, and two of them are her teammates. Hailey Blalack, a sophomore, nearly upset Crum in the Class AA semifinals in 2010 as a freshman. She is expected to contend again.

Also, sophomore Katya Kulikova should be among the top four in the state as well, Munro said. Kulikova transferred to Glacier from Las Vegas, where Munro said she played at an academy. The top contender outside of the Wolfpack program, Munro believes, is Molly Crum of Great Falls, the younger sister of last year’s champion Ellie.

All three of Glacier’s top girls played extensively in the offseason in United States Tennis Association tournaments. A group of other singles players, led by junior Shelby Ballard, rounds out the talented roster.

“The girls should be incredibly strong,” Munro said. “They should be deeper than last year’s team.”

The boys finished tied for second with Billings Senior last season, well behind state champion Missoula Hellgate. Several players return with state experience, including brothers Phillip and Patrick Phattharaamporncahi. Patrick, a senior, is teaming up with senior Brandon Simpson in doubles.

A number of lesser-experienced players are fighting for varsity positions in both singles and doubles, including Edwards and senior Brandon Doty. Munro said they will try to bring the athleticism they showed off in basketball onto the tennis court.

Bates may again be impossible to beat, though Munro said there are a few strong singles players across the state. In addition to his high school play, Munro said Bates has qualified for a “prestigious” regional USTA competition.

“He’s looking good,” Munro said.

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