KALISPELL — Fourteen months ago, Famous Lefthand stood on the basketball court at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the campus of Montana State celebrating a state title. Friday, Lefthand hopes to duplicate that moment.
Lefthand advanced to Friday’s Class A state tennis semifinals in the boys singles, defeating Columbia Falls’ Niels Getts 6-1, 6-3 in the opening round, then topping Aubry Potier of Corvallis 6-3, 6-3 in the second round. He’s set to face defending runner-up Brendan Buls of Whitefish in Friday morning’s semifinals, which are slated to begin at 8 a.m. at the Flathead Valley Community College courts.
Despite the obvious differences between the two sports, Lefthand has found one factor needed in both.
“Moving my feet and staying square is (how basketball is similar to tennis). In tennis, just like basketball, you have to stay square to hit the ball right and you have to stay square to make the (basketball),” he said.
There’s no denying the name Lefthand has made for himself on the basketball courts, lifting Hardin to the 2018 State A title, then helping the Bulldogs finish runner-up this March.
Now, with as few as two tennis matches remaining in his junior season, he hopes to showcase his tennis talents to those familiar with his basketball game.
“Yeah, my big brother, Darnell, made a name for himself in tennis and I’m just trying to do the same,” said Lefthand.
Darnell Lefthand certainly left his legacy in the Hardin tennis program, joining doubles partner Michael Neeser in finishing in fourth place at the 2016 State A tournament, then capturing the doubles championship the following year.
Famous Lefthand, who said he “wanted to try tennis after watching it on TV,” began his tennis career in the doubles world but switched to singles this spring, where he feels at home.
“I was doubles, but I kind of didn’t really like it because I couldn’t take the shots that I wanted to,” he said. “In the singles, now I don’t have anyone to worry about. It’s all about myself. I like that pressure.”
A fan of Rafael Nadal, Lefthand knew his path to a potential state championship appearance would go through Whitefish’s Buls or defending state champion Brad Rakich of Dillon, but he hopes his easy-going attitude and grind-it-out style can land him one step closer to that goal.
“I just know to keep it in play, keep calm and try to let them make the mistakes,” he said.
“Just keep it in play, get to the net and try to slam it,” he continued, sharing the advice given by older brother Darnell.
Lefthand laughed at the advice, calling it “easier said than done,” but he understands when to take chances on the court. The state tennis tournament may not have the atmosphere of the thousands of screaming fans he’s grown accustomed to at state basketball, but that’s just fine with the all-state junior.
“During basketball I don’t really listen to anything. My mom says she’s always yelling at me, but I can’t really listen to anything going on in basketball. I do hear them a lot more (in tennis),” he laughed.
If Lefthand can work his way past Buls in Friday morning’s semifinals, setting up a state championship match against either Rakich or Glendive’s Ethan Carney, it would give his mom and the rest of the Hardin contingent on hand a chance to use their basketball voices.
“That would be cool. Everyone says, ‘Live up to your name,’ so that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Lefthand.