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State A tennis preview: Libby star Mee puts perfection on the line

May 26, 2010
Northwest Montana A Conference

State A tennis preview: Libby star Mee puts perfection on the line

By BILL SPELTZ of the Missoulian | Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:00 pm |

State A tennis preview: Libby star Mee puts perfection on the line

Jackie Mee doesn't even play tennis during the winter months.

There's no indoor courts within 90 miles of Libby. So while many of her challengers at this week's Class A state tennis meet in Billings practice year around, Mee stays fit with basketball, then knocks the dust off her rackets in the spring.

"It makes tennis seem like a treat because during the winter you never get to play," said Mee, who enters the first round of state Thursday with a 36-match win streak dating back to her junior season. "When the springtime comes it's like, ‘Oh yeah, it's time to play tennis!' "

The toughest part about getting back in the swing, according to Mee, is preparing yourself mentally.

"In basketball you don't have time to think about anything you've done during a game, you just have to run and get back on defense or whatever," she said. "In tennis it's like you have in between every point to think about what just happened and you have to learn to brush things off and start fresh."

The 6-foot-1 senior Logger, who last week signed to play basketball at Carroll College, has never been better on the hardcourts. Her game has evolved since last spring, paving the way for more easy points.

"My serve is getting better," said Mee, who hasn't dropped a set this season. "It's getting harder and my second serve is harder, too. Last year it was a lot softer than my first one. Now I'm getting it so it's all the same.

"My height is definitely an advantage on the serve. All my levers are so long you can get that extra torque behind it. But my toss has also been very consistent, so that has helped."

Mee says she's taking nothing for granted Thursday and Friday. There's a lot of unknowns in facing foes for the first time. One potential opponent is Mary Conwell of Hamilton, who like Mee breezed to a divisional title and is accomplished in the sport of volleyball.

"I think it's kind of a nervous excited," Mee said of her pre-state mindset. "I'm telling myself to go in there and whatever happens happens.

"It would be great to finish it strong, but it's been great no matter how I finish."

Class A also has a clear-cut favorite in girls' doubles in Havre's Hayley Donovan and Courtney Kinholt. They earned top honors at state last season with four match wins in straight sets.

Their toughest competition may come from Libby's Anna Valentine/Audra Poppen. They teamed for a divisional title last week after leading the Loggers to the state soccer finals last fall.

Havre is the defending girls' team champion and should be in the running this season. Libby, Hamilton and Polson have enough depth to make their presence felt. The Pirates have a capable singles player in Jane Probst and a salty doubles team in Kayla and Kendyall Rochin.

In boys' singles, the favorite is Ben Nearpass of Billings Central. An exceptional basketball player, he reached the finals last season before losing to Matt Harris of Whitefish in straight sets.

Kyle Miller of Havre is a force to be reckoned with after winning the State A doubles title last year with Mason Sheppard. Divisional champions Levi Pauley of Corvallis and Cree Maloney of Libby may also challenge.

The Blue Devils have enough depth to garner top-three team hardware. Joining Pauley as a divisional champion last week was the doubles team of Mitchell Decker and Bridger Walczynski. They beat teammates and fellow state qualifiers Luke Allsop and Dillon Murray in the Southwestern A divisional final, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Corvallis will also be represented by Spencer Fehr in singles and the doubles team of Isaac Smith and Cody Lengyel. Smith and Lengyel pushed Allsop and Murray to a third set in divisionals, so the potential is there to earn big team points.

"I think they've got a real good shot at it," Corvallis coach Chris Maul-Smith said when asked about the prospects of a Blue Devil team title. "With the exception of one player they all have state experience.

"That's going to help them out. It certainly has helped their work ethic this season."

Maul-Smith guided Corvallis to a team championship in 2006 and the focus of that squad reminds him of his 2010 unit. Key for this year's team will be scratching and clawing for as many wins as possible, whether they be in the winner's bracket or consolation bracket.

"Last year we took nine players to state and thought we had a real good shot, but we got there and found out otherwise," Maul-Smith said. "I think that experience, now they realize we just can't show up."

The venue for the tournament is Pioneer Park. The weatherman is calling for temperatures near 80 degrees Thursday and Friday, which may be a factor.

"But it's an old established park with shade trees," Maul-Smith noted, "so there will be some relief there."

Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or bill.speltz@lee.net.

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