By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
All Havre High head track coach Mark West and his team can say about this weekend is finally.
After a seemingly endless two weeks without competition, the Ponies return to action Saturday morning when they host the Lions Invitational track meet at the Havre Middle School Track.
The Ponies haven't competed in a meet since April 3 in Lewistown. While West admits that practice has been good for his team, he knows that his athletes are chomping at the bit to get on the track against other schools.
"This team needs a meet right now," West said. "The kids are tired of practice and they want to get out there and compete.
"The kids are also anxious for this meet because it is their invitational and that is always exciting," West added. "Myself and the rest of the coaches have also been looking forward to this meet because it is really our first true meet of the season that isn't a time trial. Everything counts a little more in this meet."
When last in action, the Pony girls team cruised to a first-place finish at the Lewistown time trials. The Havre boys also managed a third-place finish that day. Both Havre teams were without key competitors for the first two weeks of the season, and that left West experimenting with different athletes in different events. He said that because of Havre's extended Easter break, nothing has really changed much since.
"This is still early in the season for us and everything is really up in the air more than it might be for other schools," West said. "We are still looking at kids and evaluating where they will help us the most. We know where some of our older kids are at, but it is finding out how our younger kids fit into things that we are still doing right now."
While the Ponies do have a couple of weeks of competition under their belt this season, Saturday's meet will be by far the most competitive meet yet.
The Lions Invitational will feature between 25 and 30 teams. Included in the mix will be Browning, Cut Bank, Shelby, Glasgow, Chinook, Malta, Fairfield, Fort Benton, Geraldine, Chester, KG as well as the rest of the District 9C schools.
On the boys side of the meet, West sees Chester, Fairfield and Fort Benton as three teams that should compete with the host Blue Ponies for the boys team title. Chester captured the KG Invitational two weeks ago in Havre.
"I think our boys have a very good chance of doing well this weekend because we have a full team for the first time this year," West said. "But Chester and Fort Benton are really deep and very talented.
"I also think you'll see some very balanced scoring in the boys meet," West added. "Most of the teams that are coming have good athletes in different events that could score well."
Among the Havre boys to watch this weekend include junior Scott Robinson, who is scheduled to compete in five events, including the 800 meters. Distance runners Kasey Barsotti and Jeff Sprinkle are also expected to score points in multiple events for the Ponies. One Havre athlete who will not compete for the Ponies is freshman sprinter Nathan Harada. Harada is suffering from the effects of a hip injury that could keep him sidelined indefinitely.
Other local athletes to watch out for is KG's Luke Antonich in the hurdles and Cody Donoven in the javelin, Big Sandy's Mason Ophus in the discus, Chester's Patrick Walstad in the 800 and 1,600 and Fort Benton's Brandon Utterback and Khalin Anderson.
The girls meet should favor the host Blue Ponies. But Northern C powerhouse Geraldine as well as Cut Bank could push the Ponies for the overall team title. Nonetheless, West is very excited about where the HHS girls are in the young season.
"Our girls team is looking really strong right now," West said. "We have some young kids that we are really excited about, especially in the throws with Lena Suek and Liz Handy. I am looking forward to seeing how we stack up against a really strong field this weekend."
Havre should also get points from its distances runners, including Kelsey Malsam and Darci Briere, along with Alexa Lipp and Mandi Nystrom in the sprints and Kelsey Smith in pole vault and sprints.
Geraldine will bring all-everything athlete Toni Qunell, who will vie for titles in four events. Browning's Tamara Guardipee is a force in the throwing events while Blue Sky's Kaila Warren and Kile Patrick will also score points.
The Lions Invitational is slated to get under way with field events beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The running events will begin at 10 a.m.