RONAN — Mission High School tennis coach Kimimi Ashley began the season with a roster filled with mostly inexperienced players.
The majority of Ashley’s team wasn’t that they were just new to the game, they were brand new with several of them never picking up a racket prior to the start of the 2017 tennis season.
All season, Ashley’s confidence didn’t waiver in her inexperienced squad. Her perseverance and her ability to shuffle rosters paid dividends when four members of her team qualified for state at the Class-B Divisionals Thursday through Saturday at Ronan High School.
The Bulldogs, Lady Bulldogs that qualified were Warren Castor, Tine Toemkoa, Beau Peterson and Elsa Kylen, who will participate at Playfair Park and the Peak Health and Wellness Club Thursday in Missoula.
The lack of experience of her players, specifically Kylen, didn’t phase Ashley.
“I knew she was going to state,” Ashley said. “I wasn’t surprised at all. I expected it. I don’t know if she expected it, but I did. She very much earned her bid.”
In the middle of the season, Ashley shuffled her lineup trying to find the right combinations of doubles teams to counteract some of her team’s weaknesses and lack of experience.
The combo of Castor and Toemkoa worked and though they’ve only been a doubles team for a couple of weeks, they have compiled an 8-1 record as a tandem.
“I am so proud of them both and this is their first year picking up a racket,” Ashley said. “Elsa had never done lessons and never competed before. This was all new stuff and her last two matches she had were not fun for her. She played so well and they’ve all played the best they’ve played all season.”
Castor, who is the only person with state experience having qualified last year as a singles player, will lead a team that doesn’t even know the magnitude of the achievement.
“Warren has been to state as a singles player but that was under a whole different realm,” Ashley said. “Tyne and Elsa don’t have a clue what the state tournament is. I am excited to see how Warren and Tyne do because they are 8-1 since they were put together a doubles team at the tournament. They haven’t come up against a next level of play or a level higher.”
Ashley said she expressed “confidence” in her team’s ability headed into the state tournament.
“I think my biggest goal for them is to not freak out,” Ashley said. “I just want them to enjoy going out there and playing tennis every day, and just having fun in what they are doing, and to not get freaked out by the status of state.”
A portion of the state tournament will be played indoors and according to Ashley that will change how players perceive things versus the outdoor courts they are mostly accustomed to playing.
“In an indoor court, it is a lot more confined and it’s just a different atmosphere,” Ashley said. “The lighting is different and it adds to the game. That really adds to the enormity of the event. That is where you are and there are mind games there too.”