BILLINGS — Timmy Johnson isn’t afraid to sing the praises of his Billings West doubles partner.
And it’s not just about Jayden Ostler’s tennis ability.
“Technically, he’s the best pianist...,” Johnson starts, and before he could even get the next word out, Ostler jumps in with a sheepish smile and responds, “No, no, no,” as he’s shaking his head.
Undeterred, Johnson continues: “…in Washington … Idaho … Montana … He tries to stay humble.”
Johnson, a senior, and Ostler, a junior, won the Eastern AA boys doubles title last Friday, just a few hours before they were to perform at West’s Big Band Dance. Besides Ostler and his love of playing jazz piano, Johnson plays alto sax.
And it turns out both are big fans of jazz. Most of their classmates would have to Google the duo’s favorites: Roy Hargrove, Duke Ellington (“I love him, he’s a classic,” Ostler says); Count Basie; Charlie Parker; and Sonny Rollins.
Both started their respective instruments in seventh grade and stuck with it. Their tennis playing took a long rest this season when Ostler, who was also a divisional doubles champ as a freshman, had to skip two weeks of playing to work on his piano parts for a high school musical.
They were reunited as a doubles team the weekend before divisionals, and though Johnson admitted the short separation messed up their chemistry a bit, Friday’s title showed they didn’t miss a beat.
Ostler’s father gave him a bit of advice the morning of their championship match. “He was saying when you’re playing tennis, and you mishit something, you have to think of it like music, where if you miss a note you have to keep going, you can’t go back and replay it,” Ostler recounted. “Which, is a little (corny), I’m not going to lie. But it made sense to me.”
Johnson and Ostler are hoping to hit all the right notes at the Class AA state tournament, which starts Thursday in Great Falls.
Here's a brief look at the upcoming state tournament:
Numbers game: Helena’s boys and girls both have a tournament-high five qualifying spots in their respective brackets, with the Bengals’ girls having two singles players and three doubles teams. Helena’s boys have the opposite ratio: three singles players and two doubles teams.
The Billings Senior boys and the Kalispell Galcier boys both have four qualifying spots, and on the girls side, Bozeman, Glacier and Missoula Hellgate check in with four.
New names: There will be no individual repeat state champions this year. Missoula Hellgate’s Hannah Worden has a chance to win a third state title, but she won her first two in doubles, including last year. She’s playing singles at this year’s tourney.
Extending the streak?: Bozeman’s girls have won the last seven team titles, though they shared last year’s championship with Billings Senior. Senior’s boys are looking for their second consecutive title. The last boys program to win more than two in a row was Hellgate, which claimed championships from 2010-12.