George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ email@example.com
The goal of every high school tennis team in the state is the same when a season begins in March. However, only one boys team and one girls team can reach that final goal of winning a state championship.
For the Havre High boys tennis team, that final goal has been reached each of the last three years. And when the Class A state tennis tournament begins Friday morning in Lewistown, the Ponies will once again be favored to reach that ultimate goal.
"I think our boys are focused and excited about the state tournament," said Havre High veteran head coach Sam Dierman. "This is something that they have been working for all season.
"To win a fourth-straight state championship is something all these kids want really bad and I think they are all prepared to do it," Dierman added.
The Ponies will begin play in Lewistown as heavy favorites to "four-peat" and Dierman agrees with the favorite label. However, he admitted that once you get to this point things don't always work out.
"The last three seasons the state championship has come down to one match and we have pulled it out," Dierman said. "Finally, this season we dominated at divisionals and we have put ourselves in a favorable position in both events."
While the Ponies are heavily favored to win another state championship, they will also have a giant bullseye on their back because every team will be gunning for them. And Dierman lists a strong contingent from Whitefish and a solid Glendive team as his team's toughest competition.
Havre's strength this season has come in both the form of doubles and singles. The Ponies are led in doubles by the tandem of Jeremy Heninger and Daine Solomon. The duo is undefeated this season and both have significant state tournament experience. Solomon,who was paired with Mike Frey last season finished second in the state meet in Kalispell, while Heninger has a second and a third place finish on his resume. Heninger is also one of two Havre players who are seeking to be a part of a state title in each year of their high school career.
"Jeremy has done so much in his four years and he has had a lot of success," Dierman said. "I know that he wants to win a state title in doubles as much as he wants a fourth team title. I think that he and Daine definitely can do it if they play like their capable of.
In fact, the Solomon and Heninger's main competition may come from teammates Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner. The dynamic sophomores have had a dominant season and have two runner up finishes to their older teammates.
"Marc and Gary have what it takes to make it to the championship match," Dierman said. "The only thing that concerns me about both of our doubles teams is that neither of them have really been challenged except for when they have played each other. They don't have a lot of close matches under their belt."
Meanwhile, in singles, the Ponies will have defending Class A state champion Kyle Baltrusch back to vie for a repeat of his own. As is the case in doubles, Baltrusch's biggest challenge may come from senior teammate Cody McLain. Like Heninger, McLain is also hoping to be part of a championship team in each of his four years.
"I think Kyle has to be the favorite to win the state championship again," Dierman said. "He is playing his best tennis at the perfect time and he is going to be very difficult for anyone to beat. He was so dominant at divisionals and I believe that will carry over to this weekend.
"Cody is also playing very well right now," Dierman added. "He will have a tough second round match against a German foreign exchange student from Ronan, but if he plays well I think he could end up in the finals playing Kyle."
The Havre High girls team will also be represented very well this weekend in Lewistown. The Ponies are coming off of a runner-up finish at the divisional meet to Livingston and Dierman says that the Rangers and Dillon will be the teams to beat this weekend.
"Unlike the boys team, things really didn't go the girls way at divisionals," Dierman said. "Now our singles players are on the same side of the bracket and both of them have very tough draws, so I am not sure how well we can do as a team."
Sophomore Amy McLain finished second at last weekend's divisional meet, and along with teammate Crystal Pyrak, who finished third at divisionals, will be on the same side of the singles bracket this weekend.
"Amy and Crystal are both great players, but they didn't play well by their standards at divisionals," Dierman said. "I think Amy has a little better draw this weekend, but they will both have to play extremely well because there are some very good players in heir bracket."
Havre also qualified a team of freshmen in doubles for the state meet. The tandem of Keelie Solomon and Steph Flatau finished fourth at the Central A meet and Dierman just hopes that the team will enjoy the moment and gain valuable experience.
"Just the fact that Steph and Keelie are going to state is very special because I have never had a freshman doubles team there," Dierman said. "However, they are going to give some teams trouble because as freshman they have no pressure on them."
The Class A state tournament gets underway at 10:00 a.m. on Friday and will conclude Saturday afternoon. The meet will be held at the Fergus High tennis complex in Lewistown.