In Class A, the Corvallis girls will shoot for their second straight state team title behind the leadership of No. 1 singles player Laramie McHugh. She took third in the state meet last season and appears on a collision course with last year’s state runner-up, Barclay Fagg of Billings Central.
“Laramie is much improved, playing some great tennis,” Blue Devils coach Mike Fehr said. “Her serve is solid and she has a better variety of strokes this year.”
Fehr lost his championship doubles team but returns a total of four state scorers. Joining McHugh are Emma Decker, Annie Sangster and Elizabeth Hennessy.
“Then I’ve got some juniors that played during the summer and I think they will help us out,” Fehr said.
Polson coach Bob Hislop believes Corvallis is the team to beat on the girls’ side, although his teams have been known to pull a surprise or two. Shannon Oakley is a returning state qualifier in singles and Mollybeth Hendrix and Karly Rochin are state-tested in doubles.
“They are experimenting with different (doubles) partners early this season,” Hislop said. “Both have placed at state.”
Two other players to watch this season are singles standouts Emily Getts of Columbia Falls and Brandy Lambourne of Havre.
On the boys’ side, defending Class A co-champion Polson appears poised to make another title run. It won’t be easy, though, because the team that shared the 2013 title with the Pirates, Billings Central, returns all its top-level players, including defending state singles champ Dillon Meyer.
Hislop has two singles players capable of giving Meyer a run for his money. They are Dylan McCrumb, last year’s state runner-up, and Brady Hislop, who took third in the 2013 state showcase.
“They spar with each other, then we’ve got three of the coaches that hit a ton with them,” Bob Hislop said. “They’re very advanced-level players and it really helps the young kids because they get to see that and also hit with Brady, Dylan and Layne (Zimmerman).”
The jury is still out on whether Zimmerman, who reached the state semifinals in doubles last season, will play singles or doubles. Polson also has another state-tested doubles player in Tyler Dupuis, who teamed with Tommy Mercer in the Pirates’ opening meet.
“For us a lot is going to depend on that next tier of kids,” Hislop said. “If they come together I think we will be pretty solid and right there with the other teams.”
Corvallis will also challenge for a state boys’ team trophy. The Blue Devils are led by two-time doubles champion DJ Pekoc, who is trying his hand at singles.
“We’ll probably experiment with him a little bit,” Corvallis veteran coach Chris Maul-Smith said. “He competes throughout the year and stays on top of it and that makes a huge difference. Part of it right now is just making that shift to singles.”
Alma Powell is also back for the Blue Devils after taking fifth at state last season. On the doubles side, Shade and Jeremy Jessop are back after qualifying for the 2013 state meet. Should they return to state, they may run into Whitefish’s Logan Blades, who made up half of a team that took fourth last season.
“I think Billings Central is still going to be really strong because they have really good doubles to go along with (Meyer),” Maul-Smith said. “Hopefully we will be in the running for something.”