Missoula Sentinel brother-sister duo of Braden and Ristine sets the pace in Class AA tennis
From toddlers to teen-agers, Missoula Sentinel's brother-sister tennis tandem of Braden and Ristine Olson have grown up under the watchful eye of a supportive and active family.
"We play so much," said Braden. "My mom used to play a lot and my dad too. They kind of got us into it. Every day one of us is playing."
"It's pretty cool," added Ristine. "I've been around (tennis) my whole life. It's fun when the whole family's into it."
Their father, Craig, is the Spartans' varsity tennis coach and their mother, Sue, is a former Western Montana Open singles champion and now their biggest fan. Together they brought up a pair of the best singles players in the state.
"Both me and (Sue) played tennis," said Craig, "She was quite good, I was just a hacker. But we'd take them out on the court when they were little and let them bat at the ball a little. It kind of took off from there."
Has it ever.
Braden, a senior, and Ristine, a sophomore, will head to Bozeman on Friday in defense of their Class AA boys' and girls' singles titles. Both earned a No. 1 seed two weeks ago at the Western AA divisional tournament in Missoula, it was Braden's third straight divisional title; Ristine's second.
Ristine has her undefeated high school record intact, taking a 19-0 mark into this year's state tournament while Braden is 18-0 so far. Together they represent the tournament favorites and a possible repeat is on the horizon.
Last year when the Olsons won their singles crowns it was believed to be the first brother-sister combo in Montana high school history to win titles in the same season.
Ristine did it by beating two-time defending champ Lindsey Torgerson of cross-town rival Hellgate in three sets. It was the first time all year Ristine had dropped a set. She rallied to win 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 and cap off an amazing 22-0 freshman campaign.
Braden had a tough draw as well, facing defending boys' champ John Michael Chamakoon of Great Falls. Chamakoon had defeated Braden in their two previous meetings that season but Braden bested him 6-4, 6-4, in the state finals and finished the year 18-2.
"I kept looking over and watching him," recalls Ristine. "His was a tough one, 'cause he wasn't expected to win it and the guy he was playing had won before. When Braden won his, it just made me want to win mine more."
Looking back on it now, Braden was pleased that he and his younger sister could share such a feat.
"It's been great," he said. "It's not just one of us, it's both of us that have done it. It's better that way."
And it's not just Montana where these two raise a racket, they excel in national tennis tournaments as well. The younger Olsons play in the Intermountain Region of the United States Tennis Association and face some of the top junior players in the nation. Ristine is ranked in the top three in the girls' 16-and-under division. Braden holds a No. 7 ranking in the boys' 18-and-under division.
As a matter of fact, the Olsons are heading off to California for the Quicksilver Tournament a week after the state tournament and then Sectionals of the Intermountain Region begin in June. The action never ceases for these two, who also played on their respective varsity basketball teams last fall and winter.
That means lots of time in the bleachers for the Olson family, which is good or bad, depending on who you talk to.
"It's really tough being a parent," said Sue. "Because I used to play tennis and I enjoyed doing it so much, watching is much tougher than playing the game."
"It's been a lot of fun," Craig said. "I've really enjoyed it all the way through, and who knows, we'll see what happens this weekend."
With all the success these two have attained, and there's surely more to come, there's an added dimension. Ristine and Braden are suffering from a case of butterflies heading into Friday's first-round action.
For Braden, who graduates in two weeks, things are a little crazy right now and he's doing everything he can to focus on his last tournament.
"Right now it's tennis," he said. "But I'm definitely nervous. This year I'm supposed to win. Last year I wasn't expected to."
No matter what happens this week there will always be more tennis for Braden. He's off to Montana State next fall on a tennis scholarship where he plans to major in engineering.
"It's going to be weird," Ristine said of her brother's departure. "It will be sad and different. I'm sort of looking forward to it, but not really."
And as for Ristine, she has the possibility of four consecutive state titles staring her in the face. It's a prospect that hasn't eluded her one bit.
"That thought has crossed my mind," she said. "That's a goal I want to achieve."
So looking down the road to next season when Braden is gone and she has the spotlight all to herself, how will Ristine respond without a member of her biggest support group around?
"She'll be fine," Braden said. "I think she probably won't ever lose a match in high school."
Reporter Nick Lockridge can be reached at 523-5265 or by e-mail at email@example.com.