By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
As April turns to May, the Havre High School track team is turning for the home stretch of the 2004 season. And the regular season gets no easier for the Blue Ponies as they travel to Whitefish on Saturday for the always competitive Whitefish Invitational.
"This will be another very difficult meet for our kids," said HHS head coach Mark West. "The competition will be very strong on both the girls and boys sides and the trip itself is very demanding. We're on the bus at 4:30 a.m. and it is a long one-day trip."
This is the second year that Havre has attended the Whitefish meet. Last season, the Pony boys and the Whitefish boys turned the meet into a virtual dual meet. It later turned out that the same thing would happen three weeks later at the state meet in Missoula with the Bulldogs holding off Havre both times.
But things have changed slightly in 2004. While Whitefish is poised to repeat as Class A champions, the Ponies have struggled at times with a very young lineup. According to West, the HHS boys are still trying to find themselves on the track.
"We have found out through this first month that we have a lot of young, talented kids," West said. "But some of them are a year or two away, and that has left us lacking in some areas."
Havre is getting very little scoring out of its sprinters. With the loss of freshman Nathan Harada to a hip injury, it is an area that the Ponies will continue to struggle for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs don't have the same dilemma. While Whitefish is deep in almost every event, they also possess the top sprinter in Class A, and possibly in the state, in senior Cody Henning. Henning has spent the last two seasons overshadowed by the likes of Hardin's Tuff Harris and Havre High state 100-meter record holder Steve Heberly, who is currently sprinting for the Montana State Bobcats. But not this year, Henning has posted the fastest times in the state in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. The Bulldogs also have Matt Helgath, who has run the fastest time in the 800 with a 1:58.02 and a solid hurdler in Taylor Ferda.
Other solid athletes competing are Mackenzie Bloom of Hamilton (1,600), Zanen Pitts of Ronan (3,200), Devin Schmidt of Columbia Falls (400) and Blaine Baker of Libby (javelin, discus).
But even though West admits that his team may not keep up with Whitefish this weekend, he does expect big things from some of his veterans. Junior Scott Robinson is expected to contend in up to five events on Saturday and Kasey Barsotti will get another crack at Shelby's Daniel Bridge in the mile and two mile. Eric Vosen should also contend for the high jump.
"We definitely still have some holes in our boys team, West said. "And this will be another tough meet for us to score a lot of points. But our kids are going to compete hard and we will do some good things."
Saturday's meet will consist of the host Bulldogs and the rest of the Western A division. But one important team will be missing from the the girls side of things and that is the Polson Pirates.
The Pirates possess perhaps the best all-around athlete in girls track and field in senior Kasey Harwood, who owns the fastest times in the state in the 400, 800, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles. With Harwood and the Pirates not competing, there are some definite team points up for grabs.
The Pirates are also expected to battle Whitefish for the Class A state title again this season. Whitefish is loaded with talent and they are led by star sprinter Courtney Ferda, who has yet to lose a race this season. Ferda is tied for the fastest times in the state in the 100 and 200. Whitefish's 400 relay team also has the fastest time in the state at 50.2. The Bulldogs also have a solid athlete in Johanna Clossen, who competes in the hurdles and high jump.
Other solid competitors from the Western A competing are Lauren Dalton (1,600) and Kaci Calaway (3,200) of Big Fork, Bekah Stoltz of Columbia Falls (javelin, discus, shot put), Sarah Hislop of Columbia Falls (high jump) and Yvonne Turpitz of Libby (long jump, triple jump).
But one team that no one on the west side of the state is talking much about is the one that West is bringing to Whitefish on Saturday. The HHS girls team has emerged as a legitimate contender in 2004 thanks in large part to the scoring of the likes of seniors Kelsey Smith and Alicia Overcast. Alexa Lipp has recovered from her ankle injury and will also be looked upon to contribute to the point total on Saturday. Havre's resurgence as a girls track and field power has been helped by the emergence of a powerful group of distance runners like Darci Briere, Kelsey Malsam and others as well as talented young throwers like Lena Suek and Liz Handy. Kelsey and Cammie West have also emerged as very good young runners for the Ponies.
"Our girls team is really starting to gel right now," West said. "We are getting scoring from some events where we got none last season and that has made a big difference."
"Even though Whitefish has a very good team, I fully expect us to compete with them on Saturday, especially in the sprints and the relays."
While the Havre girls have come on very strong this year, West knows that this weekend will tell him a lot about just where his team might stand when they get to the state meet in Butte in four weeks.
"I really like how our girls are competing right now," West said. "But they know they have to take it up another notch this weekend if we are going to
compete with teams like Whitefish."
"One thing is for sure, even though it is a long hard trip and a very competitive day, all of our kids are looking forward to getting on the bus and going down there and seeing what we can do."
The Whitefish Invitational is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday with the field events. The running events will begin at 10:45 a.m.