The Choteau High School tennis players brought home a state championship title, a sixth-place medal and a team trophy from the State Class B tournament.
Senior Michaela Gunderson and sophomore Christine Funk, in only their second tournament as a doubles team, captured the state title by defeating the defending state winners in the championship. Gunderson will play tennis for Spokane Community College in Washington after she graduates. She plans to major in diagnostic medical sonography.
Daniel Asselstine finished his senior year placing sixth out of a field of 24 players in the boys singles bracket at state. Asselstine will be studying engineering at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
Gunderson, Funk and singles players Soren Cummings and Katie Major brought home a third-place team trophy, tying with Fairfield High School’s girls team with 22 points each.
“It feels amazing,” said Gunderson, a senior who has played tennis for Choteau since fifth grade. “There’s nothing like it when you finally win after working to win for so long.” Gunderson, who finished in second place in singles at state last year, said she was so grateful to have had the opportunity to play and share this experience with Funk. “It was just overall an amazing tournament,” she said.
Funk also described the state tournament as a great experience. “Taking state with Michaela was amazing,” Funk said. “We had a lot of chemistry on the court and that helped us surpass other great doubles teams like Bigfork, Fairfield and Fort Benton. Taking third as a team was unexpected.” She said the team thought it was really cool to bring home another trophy from the state tournament following a first-place team trophy last year.
Bulldogs head coach Carla May in just her second year as head coach echoed the comments made by the doubles team players. “It was just an amazing tournament,” she said. “Michaela and Christine played phenomenally. Daniel capped his season and tennis career at Choteau by placing at state, and Soren and Katie gain invaluable experience on the big stage while contributing all important points to the team trophy.”
With only two weeks as a doubles team, Coach May said, Choteau’s two talented singles players were underdogs going into the tournament in terms of time spent together on the court.
May saw two key components that negated what they lacked in court time together — communication and taking it one set and match at a time. “Their relationship having played together on the volleyball court is where the good communication skills started and has extended to tennis,” May said. And just like volleyball, which both the coach and girls understand, taking it one hit, game or match at a time kept them focused.
“Chris was a monster at the net,” May said, “while Michaela was the steady and calming force.”
May said Gunderson and Funk played some top-notch teams such as Fairfield, Bigfork and Fort Benton. “Going into the championship match they had nothing to lose, while Fort Benton was defending their title,” May said. “They just took care of business and had fun.”
In a fitting ending, Gunderson who had an almost flawless first service throughout the tournament, aced a serve to win the match and the state title.
May said a bonus with the top singles players going to state as doubles team, “they didn’t have to play each other” which more than likely could of happen at some point.
May said Asselstine has come along way in his senior year and finished by placing sixth. “He is the most dedicated and committed young man,” May said. Despite facing tough opponents who have far more opportunities to play and practice, Asselstine never gave up, May said.
“I feel truly honored to have competed in tennis for the last four years and placing at state was the perfect cherry-on-top moment to end my career,” Asselstine said.
Coach May said both Major and Cummings had to battle the weather elements on the opening day. They played outdoors with rain, wind and cold conditions. Add that to being at state for the first time, May said, and they both lost opening matches. “I was really proud of both of them for not giving up and coming back to win their next match,” she added. “They gained some valuable experience.”
Asselstine started the tournament playing outdoors and finished indoors and the doubles team played all their matches indoors.
Coach May was impressed with tournament management from Townsend who kept the matches rolling despite going from 10 courts at MSU and eight at Bozeman High to just four indoor courts at MSU.
May said the team says goodbye to two seniors, Gunderson and Asselstine. “As a new coach they have coached me and helped me understand the game. They are respectful to me and their fellow teammates,” May said. “They don’t leave when the younger players are on the court, instead stay and offer encouragement and help. They will be missed.”
State B-C tennis
Girls team scores: Loyola 44, Bigfork 39, Choteau and Fairfield 22, Townsend 18, Fort Benton 15, Cut Bank 14, Forsyth 9, Harlem 7, Baker 6, Anaconda 5, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Philipsburg, Simms 4, Whitehall and Darby 3, Great Falls Central 2, Chinook and Wolf Point 1.
Choteau girls results:
Michaela Gunderson/Christine Funk, Choteau — state champions — first round: bye; second round: def. Hannah Blackwell/Roxanne Keefer, Forsyth, 6-4, 6-2; quarterfinals: def. Chesney Rogers/Kenna Pitcher, Fairfield, 6-3, 6-1; semifinals: def. Fox/Bedford, Bigfork, 6-4, 6-3; championship: def. Katie Giles/Megan Clark, Fort Benton, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
Soren Cummings — lost to Juniper Johnson, Bigfork, 6-4, 6-4; def. Elsa Podesta, Darby, 6-4, 6-3; def. Sierra Metsch, Phillipsburg, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4; def. Shivell Norvich, CJI, 6-2, 6-2; lost to Naemi Wipf, Fairfield, 6-2, 6-3.
Katie Major — lost to Emily Bonner, Bigfork, 6-2, 6-2; def. Courtney Alley, CJI, 7-5, 6-2; lost to Grace Daniel, Missoula Loyola, 6-2, 6-3
Boys team scores: Great Falls Central 44, Bigfork 35, Loyola 33, Troy 17, Anaconda 12, Cut Bank 9, Choteau 7, Conrad 5, St. Ignatius 4, Darby and Valley Christian 2.
Choteau boys results:
Daniel Asselstine — finished sixth — First round: bye; second round: def. Jason Moore, St. Ignatius, 6-2, 6-3; quarterfinals: def. Heuchling, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3; semifinals: lost to Roger Mai, Great Falls Central, 6-3, 6-4; playing for third/fourth, lost to Nick Diekhans, Great Falls Central, 6-4 1-6, 3-6; playing for fifth/sixth, lost to LeRoy Wilson, Anaconda, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 1-6.