Boys singles is typically the premier event at the Class A state tennis tournament. Blue Pony senior Justin Jensen has seen that with his own eyes, having reached the state tournament as both a sophomore and junior.
Jensen also knows, and has even seen for himself, just how well Havre High boys singles players have done at the state level ov
er the years. Jensen has been teammates with two of the most recent HHS greats in Shane Kemmer and Kyle Miller.
On Friday afternoon in Great Falls however, Jensen didn’t just know his HHS singles history, he became part of it.
Jensen closed out a stellar Havre career by winning three straight matches on Friday to place third in a loaded boys singles draw at the 2012 Class A state meet. It was an epic run for the Blue Pony star, in which he beat three players he was a combined 0-10 lifetime against. It also capped off a brilliant two weeks in which he won the Central A championship and lost just one of his 10 postseason matches.
"The last four matches, I played the best tennis I have played all year,” Jensen said. “That gave me a great feeling ending the season, and knowing that all that hard work I have put in was actually for something.
“Justin had about as great an ending to a tennis career as one can have,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “He beat not just three quality players in a row, but he beat three guys who he has history against, and not much of that history ever went in Justin’s favor before Friday.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of him,” Ferguson added. “It was something really special to watch and to be a part of. He played brilliant tennis and he just wasn’t going to be denied. I’m really happy for him because he went out a winner and that’s the way they all want to go out. It was just a really special day.”
Jensen opened the state tournament with an easy win over Libby’s Dan Leggins. Then, he ran into a huge nemesis in Hardin’s Rusty Burshia in the quarterfinals. Burshia got the better of Jensen in the quarter’s, but he rallied to beat Polson’s Sam Peel on Thursday night to stay alive.
Then came Friday’s run of victories.
“The first day I lost my second match, and obviously my first-place dreams were out of the picture,” Jensen said. “But I was still set on taking third place, that never left my mind and I played my heart out that second day and it showed. It was great getting third place.”
First up Friday morning was Polson’s Brady Hislop, a talented and big-hitting sophomore Jensen had nearly knocked off last month in Cut Bank. After the two battled each other early, Jensen took command and wound up winning in dominating fashion, by scores of 6-4, 6-1. The win ensured Jensen two more matches and a top-six finish, but standing in his way of the third-place medal was Corvallis star Mitchell Decker in the consolation semifinals.
Decker was a favorite to win the singles crown and was a former state champion in doubles. He lost to eventual champion Dillon Meyer in the semifinals early Friday morning, but rebounded to take the first set off Jensen 6-4. From there however, Jensen turned the tides. He played some of the best tennis of his life and controlled Decker the rest of the way, winning by scores of 6-2 and 6-4.
“That win over Mitchell was as big a win as we’ve had on our team in a few years,” Ferguson said. “Mitchell is a great player. He’s going to MSU-B to play next year and he’s very experienced. But Justin was just on this incredible mission and he played two of the best sets of his life. He played so well and at such a high level too, that Mitchell really didn’t have an answer for what Justin was doing out there. It was so much fun to watch.”
And for all Jensen’s hard work, the reward was a rematch with Burshia, the hard-nosed grinder who had never lost to Jensen dating back to their sophomore year at the Class A state tourney in Billings.
However, Friday afternoon was a different story. Jensen was destined to finish on top and he did just that, besting Burshia in straight sets, by scores of 6-2, 6-2.
“There are couple types of kids that make it to state,” Jensen said. “You have the ones that run every ball down and make you make mistakes, and then you have the kids that practice every day, play year round, and hit the ball hard every time. But I think playing with Shane (Kemmer) the last couple of weeks really helped me. The balls were coming at me pretty hard and with a lot of spin, but this weekend I felt comfortable with that spin. That really helped me out with my confidence.
“In the matches I lost this year, I lost my head,” he added. “And so I think the biggest thing I overcame was staying calm on the court, it gives you a lot more focus and limits the mistakes. I was just really focused and calm and that helped a lot. I’m just really happy I was able to finish third.”
Overall, Jensen went 5-1 in Great Falls and scored all 10 of Havre’s team points. He also vaulted his name into the talk of the tournament, having taken out some of the biggest heavyweights of Class A tennis. It was indeed a weekend to remember for the Blue Pony four-sport star.
“The state tournament Justin had is proof positive that if you believe in yourself and stick with what you’re doing, good things will happen on the tennis court,” Ferguson said. “The game is so mental, and mentally, Justin was as good as anybody in the draw this weekend. When it came down to it, he simply wasn’t going to be the one on the losing end of the matches he played in.
“As a coach, it was just really special to witness,” he added. “I am just so happy for him because he is a real hard worker and a great kid and he has really been dedicated to tennis and to his team. It was a fairy tale ending for Justin and one none of us who saw it will ever forget.”