Knowing that Belgrade was moving up to the state’s highest classification the following year, Justin Arndt made sure to get as many AA programs on the schedule as possible. The goal of the head coach was ensure the Panthers were prepared and comfortable for what they’d encounter in 2020.
They had to wait a year to see what they could do at the next level after the season was canceled due to the pandemic. But, with the first season in AA nearly complete, Belgrade has exceeded expectations this spring.
Three singles players for the girls qualified for state at the Eastern AA Tennis Tournament in Billings, and Bella Anderson won the championship. The junior lost just three games the entire tournament in leading the Panthers to the second team title in program history.
“One of the things that really helped was two years ago we did half of our schedule in double A and we played the Billings schools,” said Arndt. “So I think some of these (girls) as freshmen and sophomores got to see that level of competition that they were going to have to deal with in Billings, and they really worked hard the last two years. They put in the work and they deserved it.”
Belgrade scored 38 points, while Billings Skyview was second with 31. Billings Senior and Billings West rounded out the four teams with 26 and 9 points, respectively.
Anderson, an out-of-state transfer, wasn’t with the team two years ago. But her addition bolstered the Panthers in the singles and she improved to 16-1 after going 4-0 at the tournament.
Anderson easily swept all four of her opponents, including Billings Skyview’s Sydney Luderitz, 6-0, 6-1, in the title match. With the victory, she became Belgrade’s first-ever divisional champion.
“She was playing very well. She was playing very level headed. She didn’t let up,” said Arndt. “She played some of her best tennis in the last two days on top of being very even and level headed.”
Alexa Dryer defeated teammate and fellow senior Maliah Beauchaine in the consolation match 6-0, 6-3. Both qualified for state as the top four from each division advanced.
“They played the most tennis I think any humans have played in two days,” said Arndt. “They’re both completely wiped out.”
Beauchaine won a four-hour first round match against Billings Senior’s Riley Gilsdorf 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 Tuesday. Gilsdorf was the Broncs’ No. 1 singles player.
“It was a marathon, but she just wouldn’t quit,” said Arndt. “She was running down balls, she was in the right places, and making it tough.”
Beauchaine won again in the quarterfinals before losing in the semifinals to Lunderitz. She bounced back with a victory in the consolation semifinals to clinch a berth to state.
Dryer lost to Lunderitz in the second round in three sets, and then played a more than two-hour long match that was called late Tuesday night and resumed Wednesday morning against Gilsdorf. She eventually won 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-2.
Dryer added three more victories in the consolation bracket en route to finishing third.
“The way they played these last two days, they did not quit,” said Arndt. “If they play anything like that at the state tournament they will certainly have a shot.”
Belgrade did not qualify a doubles team or singles player on the boys’ side for state, although Dawson Brooks came close. The senior lost in the semifinals and then lost again in the consolation semifinals with a berth to state on the line.
“Dawson played a couple of really tight matches. He was one match away from going to state,” said Arndt. “The match before that match he came back from having lost 11 games in a row, he lost the first set 6-0 and he was down 5-love in the second, and came back and won that match. He was trying to do something similar in the match to go to state.”
The No. 1 doubles tandem of JD Hoppe and Dalton Mattson also lost in the semifinals and then in the consolation semifinals with a state berth at stake.
“The doubles draw this tournament was very solid on the boys side,” said Arndt. “I think Senior’s score as a team was very high, the 50’s, they did very well. I think a big part of that was their doubles.”
Billings Senior easily won the tournament with 58 points, while Billings West (23), Billings Skyview (21) and Belgrade (15) were within and eight-point spread of each other.