By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Last season was a difficult one for the Havre High girls basketball team. The Ponies went just 8-10 overall and were unceremoniously bounced from the Central A divisional tournament.
That kind of season just hasn't happened much during the storied Blue Pony program too often. To compound matters, the Ponies lost a unanimous first team all-state player and the leading scorer in the Central A conference in graduated senior Carrie Flatau.
Havre High also suffered critical losses to graduation with the likes of post players Renessa Briere, Sara Suek and Jeanna McPherson all moving on.
But as the Ponies and veteran head coach Dennis Murphy prepare to open a new season Friday at the Central A Tipoff tournament in Browning, there is a renewed sense of confidence and excitement surrounding this year's team.
"We lost some very good seniors from last year's team including a tremendous player in Carrie Flatau," Murphy said. "But we are very excited about this season and we are looking forward to playing basketball."
"Practice has gone very well so far and this group really seems to play well together," Murphy added. "Now it is time to see if that can carry over to a game situation."
Another reason Murphy and Blue Pony fans have to be more than a little excited is the addition of senior guard Jolene Fuzesy, who transferred to Havre from Malta. Last season, Fuzesy was a unanimous all-conference and an all-state player, averaging better than 20 points per game for the M-Ettes.
"Jolene will be a great addition to our team," Murphy said. "She is a tremendous talent on the floor. She shoots the ball well and rebounds it very well. She is a great athlete."
Joining Fuzesy will be a pair of returning starters in sophomore Steph Flatau and junior point guard Amy McLain. Both players had solid seasons in their first year as varsity players.
Rebecca Hilliard, Justine Erhard and Kelsey Evans also return to give the Ponies some youthful, but experienced players on the roster. Newcomers to the Blue Pony varsity roster include senior Alicia Overcast, junior Whitney Barnekoff and sophomore Kacy Herron.
While Murphy admits that for the second-straight season his team is centered around youth with inexperience at the varsity level, he also believes that his returnees from last year's team gained valuable experience. Although his team is short in stature, it isn't short on talent.
"We have a lot of good athletes on this team and we are fast," Murphy said. "I think as the season goes on we also have the ability to be a very good shooting team."
"Our lack of size which is our biggest problem," Murphy said. "And our lack of experience at some positions is also something that we will have to overcome early on in the season."
Another factor that also plays into the success of any Havre High basketball team is the aggressive regionalized schedule that the Blue Ponies play. Havre will face tough conference opponents like Lewistown and Browning as well as both Great Falls schools.
"Because of our schedule, I think that we have the chance to be a very good basketball team with a not very good record," Murphy said. "But our goal will be the same as always. We want to play the best basketball we can with the perspective that if we keep improving each week we will be ready when the postseason comes."
Havre will open their season Friday afternoon when they square off against the Belgrade Panthers. They will also face the Anaconda Copperheads on Saturday afternoon.
It will be the only time the Ponies see either team before the Central A divisional tournament in Havre at the end of February. Havre will also not have the luxury of playing top-rated Dillon as well as Livingston and Butte Central this season.
As for Panthers and Copperheads, Murphy said that both teams will present formidable early season tests for his young Blue Pony team.
"Belgrade is young and inexperienced and I think that we match up with them very well," Murphy said. "Anaconda is a team that is on the rise in our league. They have a lot of size and speed, and that could present some difficulties for us."
"Obviously we are going into this tournament with the goal of winning both games," Murphy added. "But our biggest goal will be to make sure that we are as competitive as possible and that we continue to improve each game."
Havre High will square off against Belgrade at 3:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The Ponies will face Anaconda at 1 p.m. on Saturday. All of the games in the 2003 Central A Tip-off tournament will be held at Browning High School.