In a showdown nearly a month in the making, Maria Frampton and Heather Sikoski, two high school juniors, exchanged volleys while the rest of the Class AA state tennis tournament unfolded around them.
Rainy weather had pushed the early rounds of the Class AA state tournament indoors, at The Summit, before the competition returned to Flathead Valley Community College on the afternoon of May 17. One day later, after Frampton and Sikoski had rolled to two wins each inside, they were trading forehands and backhands in the state semifinals. The fiery Sikoski screamed when points would fall her way while the steely Frampton quietly responded, answering only with the occasional pump of her first.
Frampton, of Glacier High School, and Bozeman High School’s Sikoski had been two of the best tennis players in the state of Montana all season long, and had been eyeing a rematch since Sikoski beat Frampton 7-5, 7-5 at the Helena Invitational in early May.
“I think they both knew that was the match,” Glacier Head Coach Josh Munro said. “They both knew, ‘Man, that’s a tough semi.’”
Sikoski has stood atop Class AA tennis nearly her entire high school career. She was one set away from winning a state title as a freshman, won the championship as a sophomore and came into the state semis undefeated as a junior.
Frampton, though, hadn’t been there to stand in Sikoski’s way before this season. She is in her junior year of high school, but Frampton had attended Whitefish Christian Academy (a school without interscholastic athletics) until the 2017-18 academic year, when she convinced her parents to let her take enough classes at Glacier to join the Wolfpack’s tennis team. After a fabulous start to the season, Frampton left Helena disappointed by two losses there before rebounding to win the Northern AA Divisional title the next week.
“It was eye-opening and humbling to lose,” Frampton said. “But losing was a great blessing — I became extra motivated.”
The first set in the state semifinals was a marathon. By the time it ended, with Frampton winning in a tiebreaker, full matches on nearby courts had started and ended. Then as the second set, won by Sikoski, pulled to a close, more than two hours had passed since the battle began.
“I saw (Frampton) playing smarter and playing bigger in the big points — she did pretty phenomenal,” Munro said of the first set. “At the beginning of the second set, Heather was able to turn it up a notch and Maria just couldn’t get a couple things to fall that had been falling for her in that first set. Heather’s balls were just that much deeper, a little heavier, and didn’t allow Maria a chance to be offensive.”
The decisive third set came and went without the same level of drama as the first two, and not in the way Frampton had hoped. She had come closer to the now two-time state champion than just about anyone had all year, but the ultimate prize, for this season at least, had slipped away.
And the loss would come to symbolize the two-day tournament for the host Wolfpack — close but not quite there. Glacier’s top singles players fought hard through difficult draws only to see their seasons end in disappointing fashion, and tight doubles matches that went the wrong way kept the Wolfpack from cracking the top three in either team competition.
The good news for the young Wolfpack is there is plenty to look forward to for next year, and a year’s worth of motivation to build from.
“I thought it actually went really well,” Munro said. “We came out, put ourselves in a decent position, and we lost a couple close matches that, if those turn around, we end up with a trophy.”
Sikoski and Frampton’s match ended 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-1 in the Bozeman junior’s favor, and Sikoski went on to sweep Great Falls C.M. Russell’s Mackenzie George in the finals. Frampton, meanwhile, had to compose herself enough to come back on the court just one hour after the disappointing loss and fight through the consolation bracket. She did just that, roaring to a pair of straight-set wins and finishing third in the state.
In the boys tournament, meanwhile, Glacier’s other No. 1 seed was also a newcomer in freshman Rory Smith and, similarly, had been done no favors with his draw. His second-round opponent, Liam Johnson of Missoula Big Sky, had handed Smith two of his five losses during the season and would do it again, 7-5, 6-4, on Thursday.
Then after winning twice early Friday in the consolation bracket, Smith drew Helena’s Cory Bowlby, who had saddled Smith with his other three losses in 2018. Bowlby won a tight three-setter to end Smith’s tournament, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, and leave the Glacier freshman tied for fifth in the tournament.
With their first state tournament experiences now behind them, Munro believes both Smith and Frampton are poised for even bigger things next season.
“It’s a different atmosphere than other tournaments,” Munro said. “What we were hoping for is a lot of time on court with a little different pressure this year that they can learn from.”
Glacier also had a pair of doubles teams finish tied for fifth, including the girls team of McKenna Johnson and Maggie Rudbach. Johnson, a senior and three-time state competitor, finishes her career having played in more doubles matches than any player in Wolfpack history and meshed quickly with the sophomore Rudbach, who played singles last year.
“They barely knew who each other were (before the year),” Munro said. “That’s a lot of pressure (for Rudbach), playing with a senior like that, but they carried each other at different times. They worked together very well.”
The boys doubles team of Tyler Keller and Kyle Buckingham returned to the state tournament this year and advanced to the semifinals in the championship bracket before losing to the eventual state champions, Jackson Pedersen and Andrija Martinovic of Bozeman. Keller and Buckingham were eliminated in their next match as Buckingham, a junior, was hampered by a shoulder injury.
Billings Senior won the boys tournament while Senior and Bozeman shared the girls title. Glacier’s girls were fifth and the boys came in seventh.
Bigfork’s Berreth, Reichenbachs Win State Titles
Ellie Berreth’s fourth trip to a state tournament was a charm.
The Bigfork senior rolled through the Class B/C state tournament in Great Falls May 17-18, beating Choteau’s Michaela Gunderson 6-2, 6-1 in the championship match. Berreth did not lose a single set in the tournament.
Berreth qualified for the Class AA state tourney twice while competing for Flathead High School, finishing in a tie for fifth her sophomore year while playing for her uncle, then-Flathead tennis coach Rick Berreth. She transferred to Bigfork last year and claimed fifth place in Class B/C in 2017.
Bigfork also came home with a state championship in boys doubles, courtesy of twins Colton and Clayton Reichenbach. The pair faced a couple difficult battles on the way to the title, including in the championship match when they dropped the second set before beating Missoula Loyola’s Dan Ramsey and Dan Kaleva 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.
Great Falls Central won the boys team title with Bigfork third. Choteau won the girls team title.