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Flathead’s Kersten looks to step up at state

by KATIE BROWN
Daily Inter Lake | May 24, 2023 11:55 PM

There are a few frontrunners for the 2023 State AA tennis girls singles title, and Flathead’s Alexis Kersten is one of them.

The others are Qayl Kujala of Helena, Izabel Barr of Bozeman, Elliotte Banzinger of Hellgate and Lilly Langbein of Great Falls.

Kersten faced Langbein in the Northern AA divisional final last week. Langbein prevailed 6-3, 6-2.

“It was actually a little bit tighter than I expected it to be,” Kersten said. “She's just a really solid player. Really my only goal going into that match was just to win as many points as possible, if you just take it one point at a time, you're more likely to win those points. You're not just focusing on the whole game. So every single point was worth it to me.”

“It was a good test and she played well,” Flathead coach Travis Cattron said. “Just came up short.”

Kersten is one of two Flathead representatives at the state tournament this year, the other being Isabella Parrott.

Kersten’s draw for the first round, which begins today at 8 a.m. at the Flathead Valley Community tennis courts, is Butte’s Ashlyn Burnett.

There aren’t any nerves to speak of. Kersten said she’s drawn a good deal of confidence from that divisional championship match against Langbein.

“It made me feel a lot more confident going into state just about how the level of competition is gonna be and how I step up against that,” she said.

Not to mention that Kersten is an intense competitor in general and her left-handed swing adds a twist for competitors.

“Alexis has unrivaled defensive skills,” Cattron said. “She can get to a lot of balls that other players struggle with. She forces even good players to hit three or four more shots than they're usually willing to, just because she can retrieve so well. And just hand skills with the slice means she's a pretty tough opponent regardless of who she's playing.

“She's the one that you don't want to see in the draw because she's kind of a dark horse and has the ability to beat anybody.”

In addition to tennis, Kersten is also an accomplished hockey player, most recently earning a second Montana Amateur Hockey Association state championship title with the Flathead Lady Fusion 19U team. She scored 12 goals, including a hat trick in the chipper against the Havre Lady Ice Hawks in March.

“I've played hockey since I was five,” Kersten said. “So it's definitely kind of a family favorite. I love playing that sport with my family and I have a lot of friends, but I feel like tennis, I like the tennis community more. Just like all my friends and stuff are so awesome.”

Still undecided about what to do after high school, Kersten is mulling over offers from Montana State University and Southwestern College in Kansas.

Parrott drew Banzinger, the unbeaten freshman from Hellgate, as her first round opponent.

Glacier is loaded on the doubles side between divisional champion duos Haven Speer/Sarah Downs and Harrison Sanders/Timmy Glanville. Colette Daniels and Katy Bitney, third at divisional, and Ethan Woods and Trey Engellant will also look to make some noise at state, as will divisional boys singles runner-up Will Rudbach and Sam Engellant.

The Glacier boys and girls swept divisional titles for the first time since 2019.

“It took points from everybody on the team, all the top to bottom to really get above (C.M. Russell),” Glacier coach Josh Munro said. “And we knew coming in we had to win some of those head to heads against them. The team got us in contention and then the kids in the finals really closed it out with those wins, helped really create the distance.”

Munro said it’s a relief to be hosting and not having to worry about travel and other logistics. Players are better able to focus on their matches while getting to sleep in their own beds at night.

The Wolfpack boys were sixth at state last year and the girls seventh, but the possibility is there for a better finish on both sides this year.

“First round we have definitely winnable matches,” Munro said. "The kids that were in that three-four position, their matches are a little tougher, but they're not out of the realm of possibility. The kids that were in first and second have very winnable matches and their path is there for them, it's now just gonna be executing and just trusting themselves and playing.”

State A

Polson swept the team titles this year at the Northwest A Divisional, which also saw Polson’s Clara Todd and Libby’s Ryan Beagle repeat as singles champions.

Columbia Falls’ Cloey Ramage, runner up to Todd, is the Wildkats’ only entry.

Also representing Polson are Summer Newman and Piper Hoxie in girls singles, doubles pairs Hope Morrison/Karli Owens, Julia Barnard/Tia Mercer and divisional champs Lucy Violett/Katie Smith, and in boys doubles, Colter Wilson/Tate Barentsen and Owen McElwee/Trent Wilson and singles player Torrin Ellis, second to Beagle at divisionals.

Libby is also sending Tyler Andersen in boys singles.

Whitefish duo and divisional champs Mason Kelch and Dane Hunt look like strong contenders for a title, and Johnny Nix and Jesse Burrough could also make some noise in boys doubles.

First-year players Ainsley Scott and Maggie Mercer of Whitefish made a strong impression last week and could be a dark horse in girls doubles.

The State A tennis tournament starts today at 8 a.m. at Fort Missoula.