BISMARCK - Hunter Oothoudt finally has a West Region championship to add to the family trophy case.
The Minot High School senior beat Bismarck High sophomore Willi Ulness 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) at the Capital Racquet and Fitness Center in Saturday's final. By doing so, Oothoudt avenged three previous finals losses and became the first Magician to win a region title since his brother Josh Oothoudt accomplished the feat in 2008.
"It's hard shoes to fill," Oothoudt said. "But I feel like I did it great today."
Minot High School tennis senior Hunter Oothoudt returns a shot during the West Region tournament Saturday in Mandan.
Oothoudt's day, much like his career at MHS, was about resiliency. He started the morning off with a semifinal matchup against Bismarck Century's Casey Beck. The eighth grader took the first set from the No. 1 seed, 6-4, causing Oothoudt to hurl his racket down in disgust. Oothoudt responded by easily taking the next two frames, 6-1, 6-1.
Despite winning the first set against Ulness, Oothoudt again ran into trouble. Ulness won four of the first five second-set games. Oothoudt won the next game, then broke Ulness for the first time in the set. Oothoudt eventually rallied to go ahead 6-5.
"I got down one break," Oothoudt said. "I knew I could break back. I just got that break and went from there."
Oothoudt lost to Ulness in team tournament play on Thursday and was eager to avenge the defeat.
"I think it definitely motivated him," MHS coach Scott DeLorme said. "I think after that Thursday tough match, I think he was kinda eyeing this afternoon with a chance to play him again."
Oothoudt was no stranger to the finals. In six years on the varsity team, he appeared in the region championship three times.
He was there in doubles as an eighth grader. He made another doubles appearance as a sophomore. Last year, Oothoudt made his first appearance as a singles player. Each time, he fell short.
Now he knows what it's like to finish the deal.
"It took four," Oothoudt said. "I just came out here saying it's my last year and I want to end on a good win so I came out here and played my best. Willi brought it, man. He's a hell of a player."
Throughout the final, both players were emotional. With seemingly every point down the stretch came a fist pump and a yell. At various points, both Oothoudt and Ulness snapped at the line judge. Many times they chirped at each other, as well.
But after the match they shared a smile and shook hands - Oothoudt knowing what it felt like to come up short, Ulness confident that his time is coming.
"Oh yeah," Ulness said. "I got it next year."
Oothoudt will try to match his brother with another title next week. Josh Oothoudt is the last Magician to win a state singles championship. He accomplished the feat in 2006 and 2008.
MHS senior Jordin Gardner qualified for state by beating Williston's Travis Kuhn. Junior Isaac Massey lost his qualifying match against Century's Brian Swanberg.
Minot begins the state tournament in the team bracket at noon on Thursday against Grand Forks Central in Bismarck.