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DARBY — Not long after Darby's Kimber Schlapman fell in a close tiebreaking third set to Bigfork's Payton Crawford, the Tigers' No. 1 tennis player on Tuesday was busy studying just outside the courts in Darby.

At that time, though, she wasn't pouring over her match — the junior in high school was catching up on some casual reading of her college anatomy and physiology book.

"This book kind of goes everywhere with me. I take it to all my matches so I can get notes in," Schlapman said. "It's a lot of studying everyday and then, of course, tennis."

Schlapman, who hopes to go into the medical field someday, is currently dual enrolled in some college courses along with her classes at Darby High School. She's also the Tigers' top returning girls' tennis player from the Class B-C state tournament last season after winning a pair of matches at the season's final tournament in her sophomore season.

On Tuesday, she took a loss to Crawford, 3-6, 6-3, 10-5, but often times a player can learn more from their losses. Naturally, the astute Schlapman had already evaluated her match.

"I've really been focused on my mental part of the game. That's such a big part of it ... To stay calm and not get frustrated when you get down," Schlapman said. "... During the tiebreaker my mental state was a little lower because I got frustrated.

"But (Crawford) had some really great serves and she's also really strong at returning."

Also returning for the Darby girls' team is senior TeaAnna Rouse, who was slotted into the No. 2 girls position Tuesday. She won her match against Bigfork's Emily Bonner in thrilling fashion after dropping the first set, 6-7, 6-1, 10-4. 

Rouse also qualified for state last year but scratched in her first-round match. 

With Schlapman, Rouse and fellow returning state qualifier Elsa Podesta — who won her singles match with Bigfork in straight sets against Emma Barreth, 6-4, 6-2 — the Tigers looked poised for a promising season.

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"We've got some incredible talent. ... They have solid strokes and a solid game. Our top three singles girls are just solid," Darby's first-year varsity head coach, and TeaAnna's mom, Rebecca Rouse said. "I'm pretty excited (for the end of the season). I think we could have a good shot of being highly ranked when we get there."

Coach Rouse also had high praise for Podesta, playing in the Girls' No. 3 round, explaining that Podesta, "Gets to so many (shots) and pops them back with some kind of force." Rouse's summation accurately described Podesta's straight-set win on Tuesday. The Darby singles' player won with a flurry of accurate returns.

Rouse added that her main focus with the singles trio is — as Schlapman alluded to — the mental game. 

"They need to move onto the next point. Definitely they get pretty fiery at themselves, for sure," Rouse said, smiling. "I just told Elsa and the girls how Serena and Venus Williams, they have the best short-term memory ever. They just move on, whether it's a good point or a bad point."

Fortunately, as Schlapman illustrated on a sunny and warm spring day in Darby, the Tigers certainly have the mental capacity to conquer tennis' fickle head game.

***

On the girls' doubles side, Bigfork's Meredith Bedford and Juniper Johnson broke through an 8-8 third-set tie to take the tiebreaker set and the match against Darby's Mariah Lingo and Sophia Delvo, 6-4, 3-6, 10-8. Including the matches between the Darby and Bigfork boys, it was the fourth match to go to three sets on Tuesday.

Darby's Tristan Vall went the distance to take a win at Boys' No. 1 singles versus Grant Gibson, 7-5, 0-6, 10-7. Bigfork got a point back at doubles as Ben Johnson and Wyatt Reichenbach topped Preston Smith and Tucker Holliday.

Bigfork's Brette Guenzler and Callie Martinez also topped Joslyn Graham and Anna Beiler at girls' No. 2 doubles.

Bigfork and Darby each faced St. Ignatius late Thursday, but results from the matches weren't available at presstime for Friday's Ravalli Republic print edition.

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