BOZEMAN — Like the wind in Bozeman on Thursday, Evelyn Dechans has ground strokes that are exceptionally strong and steady.
She's the most talented Class B-C girls tennis freshman to come along in a while. A 5-foot-10 powerhouse with levels of poise and confidence that go well beyond her 14 years.
The Loyola Sacred Heart standout put her skills on display on the opening day of the small-school state tournament at Montana State. She surrendered just three games in reaching Friday's quarterfinal round with wins over Courtney Allen of Chester (CJI) and Emily Bonner of Bigfork.
Dechans hasn't lost to a B-C foe all season. Plus she spends her offseason playing in talent-laden United States Tennis Association events along with her younger sister.
"This tournament is a lot of fun, with the entire team surrounding you instead of it just being you and sometimes your coach," she said. "It's just nice to know your team is supporting you and you even have players from other teams supporting you."
Dechans has been honing her tennis skills for about a decade, at first using the sport as a second hobby in between basketball seasons. Her mom, Liisa, is a former Boise State hoopster, so it's safe to say passion for athletics runs in the family.
Dechans often plays girls that hit with ample pace and topspin when she travels to out-of-state tournaments. That makes it a little tricky handling softer, flatter shots in Montana high school competition.
"It's working on technique, working on getting spin on the ball and trying to add your own pace but not over-hitting," said Evelyn, who helped the state-placing Loyola varsity girls basketball team last winter as a reserve post player. "Playing high school tennis has given me a lot of confidence, getting the reps and the wins.
"I just come out to play tennis and have fun. It doesn't matter whether I win or lose. I'm here to play. It's more like I would be upset if I didn't give it my all."
Dechans was joined in the singles quarterfinals by Emily Clotfelter and Naemi Wipf of Fairfield, Amanda Bergstad of Townsend, Payton Crawford and Emma Berreth of Bigfork, Heather Blackwell of Forsyth and Harley Fullmer of Anaconda.
In girls doubles, Loyola's Melanie Benson and Lauren Bodlovic maintained their status as the only unbeaten team in the state with a win over Madie Bloom and Kierah Kriedeman of Simms in the second round, 6-2, 6-2. Play will resume Friday with quarterfinal action.
Thursday's wind was especially hard on the boys, who had to play all their matches outside at Bozeman High (the girls played outside and inside at MSU). One former coach, who has been around the State B-C tournament for close to four decades, said he couldn't ever remember conditions being so blustery.
Bigfork's Trey Christiaens reached the singles semifinals for the fourth straight year with wins over Caleb Thompson of Anaconda, 6-3, 6-2, and Nick Diekans of Great Falls Central, 7-5, 7-5. He'll play LeRoy Wilson of Anaconda Friday for a spot in the finals.
Christiaens is hungry for his first state title after finishing second twice and third once. Unlike the past two seasons, he's not the favorite after losing to Roger Mai of Great Falls Central two weeks ago. That may actually end up helping Christiaens this weekend.
"I'm the underdog a little bit and I like it," he said. "I don't really like everyone looking at me. I mean it happens, but it's nice not having everyone trying to come after me. It's nice trying to run from behind a little bit."
Christiaens seems to have the perfect attitude going into his final two days of prep tennis.
"I went into the tournament thinking no matter what happens, I'm happy with my high school career," he offered. "That way I don't get so tight in close moments or super frustrated of nervous. Whatever happens, I'm thankful to play high school tennis."
In Friday's other boys semifinal, Mai will face Daniel Asseltine of Choteau. In boys doubles, Loyola's David Ramsey and Jacob Hollenback will play Cut Bank's Colby Craft and Colten Barsness in one semifinal and Bigfork's Clayton and Colton Reichenbach will play Great Falls Central's Nick Scott and Wyatt Walters in the other.
Ramsey also ready knows what it's like to win a state doubles title, having accomplished the feat two years ago with a different partner. He's actually had three different partners the past three seasons and with one more win he will reach the finals for the third straight season.
"I do think we've got a good shot at taking the title home," said Ramsey, who along with Hollenback has beaten every other team in the semifinals. "We'll probably be inside (because of rain) tomorrow so the wind won't matter again.
"Me being here before definitely does help I think. But it's key to be in sync with your partner. Jacob is definitely more consistent than I am, so we're best when I'm at the net and he's at the baseline."