By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Like all sports, the regular season has been about one thing for the Havre High volleyball team - preparing for post season play and achieving goals set back in the summer.
After a stellar 15-8 record and a second-place finish in the Central A conference north subdivision, the Havre Blue Ponies will now look to take the next step in a rebuilding process that began this past summer as they open the first round of the Central A divisional volleyball tournament against Anaconda today at the Belgrade Special Events center.
"What we have done this season goes all the way back to playing in the Big Sky State Games this past summer," said Havre High head coach Bill Huebsch. "We have been preparing and working hard to try to be ready for these next two weeks so that we can be playing our best volleyball at the right time."
Given that the Ponies struggled most of the 2002 campaign and made a hasty exit from last season's divisional tourney in Browning, the 2003 Havre High team has already had a very successful season in most people's view.
However, Huebsch and his team fully believe that they are ready to grab one of the three available state tournament berths on the line this weekend. Anything less than a trip to the state tournament will be a disappointment.
"The kids have worked really hard all season and we have had some great moments this year," Huebsch said. "If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that we would win 15 matches, I don't know if I would have believed it.
"But we have been playing very good volleyball lately," Huebsch added. "And we are coming into this tournament with a lot of confidence. I think we all believe that getting to state is a real possibility and that is definitely our goal."
When the Central A tournament gets under way today, the Ponies will be considered as one of the favorites to make the state tournament. Lewistown comes into the tournament undefeated in conference play and ranked No. 1 in the state.
Dillon finished first in the south subdivision and Havre will probably face the Beavers in the second round if they get past the Copperheads.
Havre's three conference losses this season include two to the Eagles and a five-game loss to the Beavers. While those two teams will be the Ponies' main threats this weekend, Huebsch also believes that Anaconda and Butte Central may surprise people in Belgrade.
"Lewistown is obviously the favorite," Huebsch said. "Dillon is also very good, and given how we have played against all of the teams in our conference, we should be right there as well. I also think that Anaconda and Butte Central are coming in playing very tough right now and that creates a free-for-all for that third spot to state."
While the Ponies' main goal of getting to state appears to be within reach, Huebsch knows that it will take the culmination of three mistake-free matches in order for the goal to become a reality.
Havre has shined at times this season despite lacking true size at the net. But in losses to Great Falls High, Lewistown and Dillon, the Ponies have committed an enormous amount of service errors and hitting errors that have cost them dearly. Huebsch said that eliminating that part of their game will be crucial.
"We have to cut down on the free points," Huebsch said. "It is a game and we are not going to be perfect. But in the matches we have lost this season, we have beaten ourselves and we cannot do that this weekend."
Second on the list of have-to's in Belgrade will be the play of the Ponies front line. Huebsch said that his middle blockers like Kelsey Smith, Ashley Hagen and Kristin Evanson will be paramount to the Ponies' success.
"We really have to go out and establish a presence in the middle and it starts with those three," Huebsch said. "We also have to get matches off to a good start. Typically we haven't started most matches well and we have had to come from behind. But we don't want to do that this weekend. We need to be in a position to jump out and put teams away when we have the opportunity. If all of that can come together, I think we will be in good shape."
Other first-round matches today include, Dillon taking on Browning, Lewistown against Belgrade and Butte Central taking on Livingston. The winners will square off tonight in quarterfinal matches. The championship round is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. The top three teams will advance to next week's Class A state tournament which will also be held in Belgrade.