HELENA — The snow had been cleared and the sun was out this past weekend in the Capital City. Both Great Falls teams came to town to do battle with both Helena schools at Barney Park and Lockey Park.
Although they had to leave town early in the morning, Bison senior Ellah Dake reminded MTN Sports, “I’m going to be honest, I think we all slept on the way here.”
Whatever it was they did to prepare for the first matches of the 2023 season must have paid off because Great Falls bested Helena 6-2 in both the girls singles and doubles.
Dake is in her final season of high school tennis this year. She said, “I feel like I’ve learned to have a lot more fun, it doesn’t matter if it’s a win or a loss.” On the boys’ side, Helena tied Great Falls 3-3 as Bengals Will Johnson, Karson Stefaniak and Rhys Anderson-Foster all won singles matches Saturday morning. Great Falls answered by winning all three of doubles matches to end the dual.
First-year Bison coach Nicki Dallison emphasized some of the new challenges going into the first outing of the year, saying, “Weather is always an issue to deal with. It’s not only about physical game but our mental game as well.”
Having recently moved to Great Falls from Fayetteville, Arkansas, where you can play tennis almost year round, she Dallison said, "The most important thing is that my players have fun. Hopefully I can create a lifetime love for tennis.”
At Barney Park, CMR won the dual with Capital, beating sweeping the boys match 8-0 and taking the girls match 6-2. The only victories on the day for the Bruins came in girls singles, where Zoie Jorgensen defeated CMR’s Kaylee Wasilewski 7-5, 6-3. Capital’s Aidyn Springfield overpowered CMR’s Kenzie Engle 7-5 in the first set and 6-4 in the second set.
The Bruins played the Bison next at Lockey Park, where the boys team dominated 7-1 after getting overwhelmed in their first match play of the day versus CMR. Dake and doubles partner Neva Clark continued their winning streak against the Capital duo of Kaidyn Dolezal and Jenna Cordes, disarming the lady Bruins 6-2 in the first and 7-6 (5) in the second set.
Dake spoke about the success she has had since Dallison took over the program: “Yeah, I really like (her). She keeps it real, she’s not trying to sugar coat things. It’s okay to have your wins and have your losses, it’s okay to feel all of the emotions and it’s really helpful when you have someone who keeps it realistic.”
Helena High made its way over to Barney Park to face CMR. After dropping nearly every set versus the Rustlers, Helena would go on to lose their series 8-0 but second-year coach Nicole Riebe focused more on improvement.
“Just relax and have fun, that’s the biggest thing," Riebe said. "If you're relaxed and having fun, you’re going to do well.”
Their goals for this young team differs from her first year coaching the Bengals as this year’s squad has only four returning varsity players. Riebe knows that with this team of youngsters, keeping them ready between matches and taking a mental break can be just as important going into a match.
“Focus on what you did well on the last match and use that going into your next match,” said Riebe.
Helena's only match play winner on the girls' side was returning junior Qayl Kujala, who beat CMR’s Grace Kauffman 6-0, 6-0. Although the Rustlers came out victorious overall at 6-1, Kujala talked about the team aspect of playing tennis for Helena High: “We practice basically through anything, we can complain and be like 'Oh, we should not playing, I want to go home.' But (the coaches say) you’re going to have matches in this, so you might as well get used to it.”