By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
It could be a tale of two different weekends for the Havre High track and field teams as they prepare to head to the Central A divisional track meet in Anaconda beginning on Friday afternoon.
While both the HHS girls and boys track teams come into the weekend as defending Central A champions, the script for 2004 could have a significantly different twist to it.
The Blue Pony girls team caught a lot of people by surprise last year when they captured the Central A title in Havre, but no one will be caught off guard this season. While the Ponies aren't any more experienced than they were a year ago, they certainly are deeper, and that fact has head coach Mark West liking his team's chances in Anaconda.
"Establishing depth this season has been the big key to our success and the girls really are on a nice roll right now," West said. "We still have a lot of young kids out there and we're asking a lot out of them right now. But they have competed well all season and they have performed at a high level all year so this weekend shouldn't be any difference."
Havre has established state contenders just about everywhere you look. Senior Alicia Overcast, who has been hampered by nagging injuries, will be at full strength in Anaconda where she'll compete and be favored in the 300 meter hurdles, the 400 and 800 meters as well as the long relay. The Ponies should also do well in the sprints with the likes of Rylee O'Connell, Kelsey Smith and Mandi Nystrom. Smith is also expected to contend for the pole vault title and all three are integral parts of Havre's top-rated relay teams.
And while the Ponies have stars in several of the high profile events, West says that a divisional title may come down to the team's younger athletes. Freshman Lena Suek has emerged as one of Class A's top throwers and she is favored again this weekend in both the shot put and discus. Carmen Neuens also gives Havre a big boost in the jumping events. But they key area according to West may be his distance runners.
"We have a lot of great athletes doing well in a lot of different areas," West said. "But our distance kids may be the deciding factor this weekend.
"We are very deep in that area with Darci Briere, Kelsey Malsam, Christina Armstrong, McKayla Patterson and Emily Kostelecky. Our depth and ability to pick up a lot of placing points in those races may be our biggest advantage over other teams this weekend."
Of course Havre isn't the only talented team in the field this weekend. Lewistown showcased a talented sprinter in Lauren Anderson two weeks ago at the Chinook Invitational and Anaconda possesses their own sprinting star in Autumn Domitrovich. The Copperheads may be the toughest overall foe for the Ponies, but West warns of a very balanced field this weekend.
"Lewistown, Anaconda and Belgrade all have legitimate athletes in several areas," West said. "I think we will all be stealing points from each other, but hopefully our depth will be the deciding factor on Saturday afternoon."
The HHS boys team is also the defending Central A champion as they arrive in Anaconda this weekend. But the Ponies feature a much different look than last year's senior-laden team that routed the competition in Havre and went on to capture second place at the Class A state meet in Missoula. Everyone but West is probably celebrating the fact that the state's most prolific sprinter, Steve Heberly, is now a Montana State Bobcat and not a Havre Blue Pony. And while the Ponies bring a very inexperienced team - that has struggled to score points this season - to this meet, West is optimistic about their chances this weekend.
"Things have been tough for our boys this year but we have gotten better every week," West said. "I think this meet is wide open on the boys side and if we get some really good performance we will be right in the hunt."
Havre will be relying heavily on the few veterans that they have. Junior Scott Robinson could score a huge amount of points for the Ponies as he will go in the 400 and 800 meters as well as both relay races and the javelin. Distance runners Kasey Barsotti and Jeff Sprinkle will also be counted upon to carry a bulk of the load as will people like Grant Neuens and the rest of his jumping mates.
"There are definitely some teams who are better than us in some areas," West said. "I think that Butte Central probably has the deepest team of anybody there and Livingston is pretty strong because of their sprinters. But beyond that, points could come from almost anywhere."
Indeed, the Rangers have been waiting two years to finally get to the head of the class in sprints. Senior Brian Skattum and company are as talented a group of sprinters as any in the state and that may give them an edge on Saturday afternoon in the boys meet.
But despite being up against difficult odds, West says the team's goals have not changed.
"Our goal is to compete for a trophy this weekend," he said. "We have some young kids who are coming on strong and if everyone competes like their capable of, that goal is definitely within reach."
The 2004 Central A divisional track meet will get under way on today at 2 p.m. with preliminary field events. The meet will run through Saturday with the finals scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. All of the action will take place at Anaconda High School.