By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
For three straight weeks, the Havre High tennis team has been battling the same three teams at different sites across the Hi-Line. Now the Ponies are set to get a jolt of reality and tough tennis as they travel to Helena on Friday for the prestigious Helena Invitational tennis tournament.
The tournament will feature all of the Class AA schools including top teams like Billings Senior and Billings West on the boys side and girls powerhouse Missoula Sentinel. The girls tournament will feature Class A schools Anaconda and Livingston as well.
Blue Pony head coach Sam Dierman knows that now is the time for both of his teams to step of their level of play and intensity as they dive into a rigorous Class AA schedule.
"This is going to be a very tough tournament for our kids," Dierman said. "For the first three weeks, some of our better players have been able to cruise a little, but that will not be the case in Helena. Everybody is going to have to raise their level of play a couple of notches if they want to be competitive. I fully expect that our kids will do that."
The Helena Invitational will be played under a format very similar to that of last weekend's Havre Invitational tournament. There will be individual brackets for each of the top three singles players and there will also be individual brackets for each of the top three doubles teams.
On the boys side, the Ponies roster appears to be pretty set with senior Cody McLain playing at the No. 1 spot. Sophomore Kyle Baltrusch will play No. 2 and freshmen Chase Castloo will be at No. 3. In doubles, Jeremy Heninger and Daine Solomon remain at No. 1 with the sophomore tandem of Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner at No. 2. Coda Tchida and senior teammate Ian Spencer will compete at No. 3 for the Ponies.
"Our boys team is pretty set right now," Dierman said. "I think that we have a real good shot at doing well this weekend because we're bringing a good overall team. The AA schools put all their emphasis on their top singles player and their top doubles team so we usually compete really well at the No. 2 doubles and No. 2 and 3 singles in this tournament.
"Typically, we have had real good success as a team in this tournament the last couple of seasons," Dierman added.
The girls team will be headed by the singles tandem of Crystal Pyrak and Amy McLain. Pyrak will play at the No. 1 spot this weekend and McLain at No. 2.
"Amy is our No. 1 singles player right now," Dierman said. "But I put Crystal back at No. 1 this weekend because of her experience. I think both of them have a chance to do real well, but they will also have to raise their level of play."
Megan Rice will round out Havre's singles roster this weekend. In doubles, the team of Jennifer Gorder and Ryan Hamilton are firmly entrenched in the No. 1 spot for the Ponies. This weekend Dierman will go with the team of Erika Johnson and Keelie Solomon at No. 2 and Steph Flatau and Sara Suek at No. 3.
"Our biggest area of focus right now on the girls side is finding those last two doubles teams that will step and score points," Dierman said. "It has been tough because some of the girls just do not seemed to be focused right now. On the other hand, we have other girls who are working really hard. It has been a struggle to find the right combination of players for our girls team right now."
As for how the tourney will shape up this weekend, Dierman expects his top players to have a good chance of placing.
"I think our top kids will realize that it is time to take their game to the next level," Dierman said. "We have some kids on both the girls and boys teams that can do that. For some of our younger or inexperienced players, this tournament will always be a really good challenge and learning experience for them."
The Helena Invitational will get underway at 10:00 a.m. on Friday and run through Saturday afternoon.