By George Ferguson
When it comes to girls basketball at Havre High School, winning just eight games in a season is unfamiliar territory. Not being favored at this weekend's Central A divisional tournament is also something the Blue Ponies aren't exactly used to.
Despite all of that, the Havre girls and head coach Dennis Murphy are feeling good about their chances when they face the Browning Indians today in the first round of the tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
The Ponies come into today's opening round with an 8-10 regular season record and the sixth-seeded team in the tournament. This season has had its highs and lows, still Murphy is excited about how his team is playing as he enters his 13th Central A tourney.
"We have made a lot of progress since the early part of the season," Murphy said. "We have played every team better in the second half of the season, and lately, I really like how we are playing.
"I definitely think that we are well prepared for this tournament," Murphy added.
Despite Murphy's confidence in his team, obtaining a State A tournament berth will be a tall order for the Ponies.
The Central A tournament is loaded with great basketball teams. The tournament features the top-ranked Dillon Beavers (16-2), the third-ranked Livingston Rangers (14-4), and the fourth-ranked Browning Indians (14-4). The defending Class A state champion Lewistown Eagles (12-6) also come in as the fourth seed in the tourney.
"This is one of the deepest Central A field of teams I have ever seen," Murphy said. "There are potentially four teams that could make some noise in the state tournament and one of those teams won't even have that opportunity. But the Central A has been like that for years."
The Ponies will begin their quest for one of the three state tournament berths this afternoon against a familiar foe in Browning. The Indians swept the Ponies in the regular season, but Murphy likes the fact that they get to play Browning just two weeks after their last meeting.
"I like our side of the bracket," Murphy said. "I feel confident that we can get to Browning if we do the right things. I also think that it is to our advantage that we get to play them so soon after seeing them. We are going to be very prepared against them. The flip side to that is that they will also be prepared."
The Ponies have played well against the Indians in both meetings, but they have yet to stop Browning star center Tamara Guardipee, which has been the difference in those contests.
If Havre is to have any success, the Ponies will have to execute a new defensive scheme intended to make other Browning players like Shana Schildt and Dani Augare beat them from the perimeter.
Another positive factor for the Ponies going into today's action is that Havre has one of the Central A's hottest players in senior Carrie Flatau.
The Central A's leading scorer at 16 points per game, Flatau has been averaging better than 22 points per game in her last five contests.
"Carrie is playing really well for us and she has gotten very consistent," Murphy said. "But you have to credit our team, especially Renessa Briere, for making great post passes and getting her some great looks at the basket. Right now, Carrie is on fire."
Another key factor for Havre, not only today but for the remainder of the tournament, will be getting everybody in sync on both ends of the floor.
"One of biggest factors this weekend will be to get everybody to know and accept their roles," Murphy said. "Everyone has an important job to do. If all the girls understand that and execute their roles, I think you are going to see good things from us in this tournament."
Murphy is also cherishing the underdog roll as well.
"We usually go to this tournament with a lot of pressure on us and that's OK, because it means you're successful," Murphy said. "This year no one is expecting much from us and I believe that is to our advantage, because I feel like we're a dangerous team, if we play up to our capabilities."
Other first round contests today include Livingston and Anaconda at 12:30 p.m., Dillon and Butte Central at 6:30 and Lewistown and Belgrade at 8.
The Ponies and Indians will tip off today at 2:00 p.m. and all the action will be held at the Civic Center in Butte. All Havre games can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.