HAMILTON — There was a lot going on for Hamilton's Sam Toenjes in his first tennis match of the season Thursday on his home court.
The senior was playing in his first match of the year after missing his team's opener against Polson two weeks ago for his work with the Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital board — Toenjes is a junior board member at the hospital.
Match 1 was also Toenjes' first time playing as the Broncs' No. 1 singles player, up from No. 4 singles last season. The competition increase for Toenjes met a meeting with Loyola Sacred Heart's Jacob Hollenback, a state placer last year in Class B/C.
"I was getting a little nervous in the first set and I lost it a little bit — this is my first time playing (No. 1 singles) for Hamilton, so I was pretty excited going into it," Toenjes said. "I got a little intimidated (at first), but I realized, 'OK, I can hit forehands to his backhand and take some points back. I just started having fun with it."
Hollenback won the match in two sets, 6-3, 7-6 (6), but Toenjes held a 5-4 set advantage in Set 2 and nearly forced a winner-take-all third set in the tiebreaker before Hollenback prevailed.
Truly it was a good first time back at competitive tennis for both competitors.
"I was able to get to the net and that's where I'm best at, I'm not much of a tennis player, just more of an athlete," said Hollenback, an all-state basketball player for Loyola, too. "(Sam) was a good player, so I just kept trying to keep it on his back hand because he had a really good forehand."
For Toenjes, the tall upperclassman would like to work more on his play at the net as the season goes forward to turn that aspect of his game into a strength.
"I know he's better than he thinks he is. We gotta get him comfortable at the net. You win 70 percent of your points at the net so we just gotta get him up there more and I think he'll do well," first-year coach Jeff Lewis said.
Along with the adjustments to both style of play and competition level, Toenjes also has a new role to adjust to this season. Hamilton graduated a handful of senior boys last year and Toenjes remains as the lone senior on the Bronc boys squad that has had eight different coaches or assistant coaches during Toenjes' four years with the program.
Along with that, Toenjes — and the Hamilton community in general — had to deal with tragedy as former head coach Paul Meyer, 43, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away last summer after an allergic reaction.
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"It's been tough, but the team has been so great, every one is so close ... It's been an interesting experience to come together as a team and figure this all out," Toenjes said. "It helps being from a small town, everyone kind of comes together.
And as the Broncs — and Toenjes — grow together this season, the end of the road looks brighter.
"We've worked a lot on technique and some of them I'm asking them to change their games a bit, and they don't like that, so I expect a rocky road for a while," coach Lewis said. "But at the end of the season, I expect (we'll) be better."
Also looking to grow as a team was Stevensville doubles partners Jamyn Beller and Callie Cavill, who took the court late Thursday against Hamilton duo Lauren Kimzey and Claire Matthews.
Both Beller and Cavill teamed up last year to take the Southwest's No. 4 seed to state and the senior duo are looking to improve on that this season.
"We definitely want to win divisionals," Beller said. "State was a lot different than I was expecting, it was a lot harder than divisionals, so hopefully we can take first at divisionals and be able to play the 4 seeds instead of be the fourth seed at state."
The two were able to take notes from last year's Southwest A division winners from Stevensville, Erin Bartlett and Jackie Westman. Both Bartlett and Westman graduated, though, thrusting Beller and Cavill into the No. 1 spot.
"We need to work on staying focused and being energized through the entire match, but I think we're going to do pretty well this year," Cavill said.
The Yellowjacket pair got the start on that goal in their season opener against Hamilton, but full results were not available at presstime. Results from Cavill-Beller's match as well as full results from Hamilton's matches against Loyola and Stevensville will be in Sunday's Ravalli Republic.