By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Today marks the beginning of the end of the tennis season for the Havre Blue Ponies as the Central A divisional tournament gets underway in Butte. Both the Havre High girls and boys teams will be after the same goal, a divisional title, but under completely different circumstances.
For the Havre High boys team, the 2003 Central A tournament marks the beginning of their quest for a fifth-straight divisional team championship, as well as an unprecedented fourth-straight Class A state title. And while the road to a team championship in tennis is never easy, Havre High head coach Sam Dierman did admit that his boys team will be heavily favored to win another Central A crown when play begins today.
"We have had a strong boys team all season and our kids are peaking right now," Dierman said. "So if our kids go out and perform like they have been lately, we should win this tournament."
That may be a bit of an understatement. The Pony boys team will only be challenged by Lewistown and Billings Central. There will be four state tournament spots up for grabs in singles and doubles this weekend and the Pony doubles teams may take three of those spots Dierman said.
"Our doubles teams have all been on a major roll lately," Dierman said. "All three teams have a shot to not only go to state, but battle for places when we get there."
Havre's No. 1 team of Jeremy Heninger and Daine Solomon come into the divisional tournament as the top seed and have not lost a single match all season.
The No. 2 duo of Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner have just two losses on the year, and both of those have come against their top-ranked teammates. Meanwhile, Havre's No. 3 team of Ian Spencer and Coda Tchida may just be the surprise of the tournament. That tandem has only lost twice all year, and both of those losses have come at the hands of Lewistown's No.1 team.
In boys singles, Havre High sophomore Kyle Baltrusch is the defending Central A champion and will be the tourney's top seed. His toughest competition will come from senior teammate Cody McLain. Those two have battled back and forth all season long and bring similar records into today's meet. Chase Castloo will be Havre's No. 3 singles player and John Christian will be at the No. 4 spot.
"Kyle and Cody will be the two favorites this weekend for sure," Dierman said. "They are both playing well right now. Other than that, it is going to be difficult to get our other two singles players to state because there will only be two more spots and Lewistown has two solid singles players as well."
While the boys team is looking to continue their amazing run over the past five seasons, the Havre High girls team is looking to break a streak of sorts. The Ponies have never won a divisional crown under Dierman and have finished second to Livingston in each of the past four seasons.
"I said at the beginning of the year that this would be our best shot to knock Livingston off," Dierman said. "They lost a couple of key players, and I think we have been much improved.
"But this tournament will be tough because they (Livingston) are still a solid team," Dierman added. "And Lewistown is also very good, so we'll have to see what happens."
The girls tournament will be the same as the boys in that there are four state singles and four state doubles spots up for grabs.
In singles, Havre sophomore Amy McLain comes in as the top seed and is riding an 18-match winning streak. Overall, McLain is a remarkable 22-1 in 2003. Senior Crystal Pyrak should be one of McLain's toughest opponents this weekend. Pyrak is 15-3 on the season including a loss to McLain in the Havre Invitational. Megan Rice has also had an impressive season for the Ponies at the No. 3 spot and Jenna Baltrusch will see her first varsity action of the season as Havre's No. 4 player.
"I think both Amy and Crystal have a good chance of winning this tournament," Dierman said. "But Livingston and Anaconda each have a very good No. 1 player so this bracket will be pretty tough.
"Megan Rice also has a good shot to qualify for state," Dierman added. "She has been improving every week and she is playing really well right now."
In doubles, Havre's top team of Jennifer Gorder and Ryan Hamilton will be heavily favored, but will also have challenges from teams from Livingston and Lewistown. The freshman duo of Keelie Solomon and Steph Flatau will play No. 2 for Havre while Sara Suek and Erika Johnson will play No. 3.
The Central tournament got underway this morning and will run through Saturday afternoon. The boys meet will be held at Father Sheehan Park in Butte and the girls meet will be at Stodden Park.