Polson High School tennis coach Bob Hislop has been in the business of tennis long enough to know it isn’t easy to win a state team championship or a state singles championship as he and his team headed into the Montana High School Association Class A State tennis tournament May 24-26 in Ronan and Polson.
Hislop, who has been the Pirates’, Lady Pirates’ tennis coach since 1992 and has won three girls state titles, one boy state title and 19 combined divisional titles, still never had one thing on the Pirates’ illustrious tennis resume entering this year’s competition: a state singles champion.
Lady Pirates singles player Shea McGuinness changed that after she captured the Class A Montana High School Association girls’ singles title defeating Corvallis’ Olivia Fehr in two sets 6-4, 6-3 to secure the title.
McGuinness’ performance capped a season for the Lady Pirates that became unprecedented after her victory, along with the efforts of her teammates, also secured the Class A team title for the Lady Pirates.
In Hislop’s 26 years of coaching tennis, he knows how rare state titles are.
McGuinness maintained her undefeated record all season long and still had to overcome adversity, including a wrist injury that affected her in the later portion of the season and even headed into the postseason.
“Shea has been hurt the last three and half weeks of the season with a wrist injury,” Hislop said.
In most cases, an injury such as a wrist injury can inhibit what a player is capable of doing, especially in a sport like tennis where a player is co-dependent on their wrists as a key component to generating power.
Shea showcased her mental toughness by playing through the pain and seeking the advice of her coaches and her mother, who is a physical therapist.
“She just tapped it up and went on with it,” Hislop said. “(How she dealt with that adversity) was pretty cool.”
Hislop credited her mother’s background for helping make the injury manageable for Shea.
“Her mom is a physical therapist and that really helped out a lot,” Hislop said. “Her tape jobs were able to support it and other factors (helped her recover) like when the weather became nicer. That helped her speed up her recovery when it became warmer out and the tennis rackets weren’t so stiff.”
Last year, Cassie Carlyle made it to the championship game but was unable to defeat Glendive’s Ceeara Staiger in the finals. Hislop said he suspected Carlyle qualifying for the finals might have provided motivation for McGuinness, according to Hislop.
“(Our coaching staff) did our work but Shea did most of the work and for the most part, we are pretty darn proud of her,” Hislop said. “I”ve been at state many times and almost won. I know how special it is when you win one because (state champions) don’t just fall off trees for you.”
Girls capture the State title
The performance of Shea McGuinness wasn’t the only highlight at the Montana High School Activities Association but she was one of the key components to helping her team capture the Class A state championship team title.
This marks Hislop’s third state title as the coach of the Lady Pirates and he has been able to achieve four state titles with homegrown talent from Polson.
“My proudest portion of building this tennis program is that in all of our state championship teams, we haven’t had one single high school transfer or someone that came from another school knowing how to play tennis,” Hislop said. “We have built tennis players right here in Polson. The kids have gone to the Summit in Kalispell for lessons, but we never had a perfect player just drop out of the sky (into our program).”
Hislop said he also has to compete for athletes with other spring sports in Polson, such as track and softball.
“It is pretty unusual to have three sports in the spring that are successful,” Hislop said. “We are competing for the best athletes (in other sports) and we needed all of our kids to make us as good as we could be.”
Hislop said he felt he knew his team had the ability to capture a state title, but also knew that anything can happen when you qualify for the state finals.
“You hope more than you expect (going into state),” Hislop said. “I knew we had the chance to do it, but I also knew a lot of things had to fall into place.”
When the girls captured a divisional title, they also got some extra help that allowed them to score additional points when senior Josie Peterson qualified for state.
The Lady Pirates accumulated a total of 24 team points and the closest competition comparatively were Hardin and Belgrade. Both teams finished with 17 points.
Aside from McGuinness’s contribution, the Lady Pirates received help from the doubles tandem senior Kyler Lundeen and freshman Berkley Ellis.
Hislop credited Lundeen’s leadership for allowing Polson to capture the state title.
“Without Kyler’s leadership, we wouldn’t be where we are at,” Hislop said.
Hislop also credited Ellis for receiving All-State honors as a freshman.
“To be able to do what she did as a freshman is a testament to her character,” Hislop said. “It will be fun to have her for another three years. I felt like she rose up in the big moments rather than shrinking like a lot of kids would do.”