MISSOULA — With a laser forehand and fierce competitive streak, Cody Curtis is fun to watch on the tennis court.
If he's on, his service returns can be downright scary for opposing net players. If he's not, he might still find a way to win with grit and determination.
The Missoula Sentinel senior made up half of the State AA runner-up boys' doubles team last spring. He's determined to go all the way this year and on Friday he and his steady partner, Connor D'Angelo, sent a message in winning the strongest divisional boys' doubles draw in the state at Playfair Park.
"A big part of doubles is if you click well with your partner," said Curtis, who teamed with D'Angelo to sweep Missoula Hellgate's Austin Moseley and Henry Stahl in divisional finals, 6-3, 6-2.
"At the beginning of the season there were definitely some issues there for us. Like how is my new partner going to react to this kind of stuff? But we've definitely started to figure things out. We know which shots to take and all that stuff."
Part of being a good doubles team is staying focused when times are tough. And understanding how to complement one another.
"We've really started to pick up on each other's weaknesses and strengths," Curtis said. "I'll go ahead and admit it: My overheads are terrible. But Connor has made great strides on his overheads. Basically when that ball goes up in the air I'm automatically like, 'Connor, you got it.'"
D'Angelo says his overheads have improved immensely over the past two weeks. Still, he's grateful to have a state-tested doubles partner heading into next week's showcase meet in Great Falls.
"Since Cody was a state doubles (placewinner last year), I would rely on him early in the season," D'Angelo said. "Now we can both rely on each other. But it helps that Cody has been through it and knows what to expect. I can look up to him in that way."
Boys doubles was the only divisional draw that did not go as expected at Playfair Park. Curtis and D'Angelo won as the second seed and Moseley and Stahl reached the finals as the third seed. The top seeds, Henry Ledyard and Wyatt Brown, punched their ticket to state as the consolation champs.
In the girls' doubles division, Hellgate's top-seeded team of Elizabeth Bowles and Mia Heffernan remained undefeated against Class AA competition in winning the divisional title. They dispatched twin sisters Lauren and Leanna Badger of Sentinel in the finals, 6-4, 6-3.
"I think we're just really good at figuring out strategy together," Bowles said. "We click and we understand each other. It's all about our connection."
Heffernan, like most everyone who qualified for state at Playfair Park, is happy to be able to focus on Great Falls now.
"Our first match especially we were pretty nervous," she said of a win Thursday over Big Sky's Cassie Farago and Brookie Gee, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (8). "As soon as we got into our groove, things started working better. Elizabeth and I get along real well on and off the court and that helps a lot."
The divisional singles draws went as expected — at least as far as the top seeds were concerned.
In the boys' bracket, unbeaten Big Sky junior Liam Johnson rallied to beat Sentinel's Ethan Violette in a tense title match, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3). In the girls' final, top-seeded Hannah Worden of Hellgate beat Sentinel's Meredith Murdock, 6-4, 6-1.
The state meet is slated for Thursday and Friday in Great Falls.