MISSOULA —The third time could be the charm for Trey Christiaens.
The Valley Christian junior has placed second at the State B-C tennis tournament each of the past two seasons. His quest to break that seal and win a title begins Thursday in Great Falls.
“He’s been super mentally tough every match the whole season,” Valley Christian coach Jodi Karvandi said. “I think he’s, more than anything, mentally dominant. He’s been put in some tough situations where he’s had to fight back from being down and has done that really well.”
The field will be filled with proven talent as four of the top five finishers from last year return. Great Falls Central junior Roger Mai won the championship, Loyola Sacred Heart junior Jacob Hollenback, a lefty, placed third and Bigfork’s Alex Buenz was fifth.
Great Falls Central sophomore Nicholas Scott will be a competitor to keep an eye on. He's a transfer from Fort Benton who grew up playing tennis and is competing at the high school level for the first time.
"Nick is phenomenal," Loyola coach Patti Danforth said. "He's a force to be reckoned with. There's four very strong singles' players at the top with him. It's going to be a dogfight."
Scott is one of two players, and the only one at the B-C level, to beat Christiaens this season, although he did so in an eight-game pro set, not a full match.
“I’m hoping to see Trey come out on top,” Karvandi said. “He’s fully capable of it. But there’s some really good competition. It’s not going to be a cakewalk. But he’s incredibly consistent in every aspect of the game. There’s not one part of his game that’s lacking.”
Five of the top six placers return in a stacked field. Loyola junior David Ramsey is seeking his second consecutive title, and he’ll try to do it with a new partner. He’s paired with Dan Kaleva after winning with Fisher Richardson last year.
"They've come across as a strong pairing," Danforth said. "Dan's game has improved by leaps and bounds. I attribute that to David. It's been a really good pairing. I look for them to go pretty deep into the championship side."
Cut Bank’s Dawson Matt and Colby Kraft placed third. Conrad’s Clint Judisch was fourth and has a new partner in Javier Fuenmayor. Bigfork’s Colton Reichenbach and Clayton Reichenbach finished fifth. Great Falls Central’s Wyatt Walters and Benson Chu were sixth.
Four of the top six duos are back, highlighted by champions Dania Jones and Dalayne Van Dyke of Conrad. Chinook’s Sierra Swank and Megan Pruttis placed third.
Among area competitors, Bigfork’s Ahna Fox returns to state with a new partner in Meredith Bedford after she placed fifth with Kalia Wicklund. Loyola’s Jacy Job and Mattie Burke will try to improve upon their sixth-place finish.
"Jacy's forehand this year is just wicked," Danforth said. "Mattie is getting to things she couldn't get to last year and is placing them really well. They're both stronger for sure."
Philipsburg’s Jaden Comings and Sarah Goff enter state coming off their second straight divisional title, and the third consecutive for Comings. They’ve played the four returning state placers, losing to Conrad, beating Chinook and Bigfork, and splitting with Loyola.
“This season, there’s been a maturity on both ends,” Philipsburg coach Meredith McDonald said. “They’ve grown a bit being partners. That relationship in doubles is important to trust each another and move together across the court. Being together for two years in a row has solidified their partnership.
“If they’re playing the way they have been, they’ve got the talent, the heart and the drive to do well at state.”
Bigfork senior Ellie Berreth is the only returner from last year’s top six placers. She finished fifth, losing to the eventual champion, Baker’s Ellen Widell, in the quarterfinals.
Loyola freshman Grace Daniel highlights the Breakers, having lost just once this year.
The Loyola girls are looking to win their first-ever state team title. The Breakers have five state qualifiers — three singles players and two doubles teams — which tied Bigfork for the most this year.
Townsend is the defending champ and has three state qualifiers.
On the boys' side, a new winner will be crowned since two-time defending champion Libby moved up to Class A. Great Falls Central leads the pack with six state qualifiers. Troy and Bigfork qualified five. Loyola, Valley Christian and St. Ignatius got four to state. No other school has more than two.
Loyola is in search of its first state title since it won three in a row from 2013 to 2015. Valley Christian has won seven, most recently in 2011. Bigfork has won seven, with its latest in 2010. Great Falls Central, Troy and St. Ignatius have never won a title.
"If everybody plays well, I think both of them could win state titles," Danforth said of the Loyola girls and boys. "They're hungry. They want state titles."