Havre Daily News Sports
In 2003, Havre High volleyball coach Bill Huebsch began the season with what he called an inexperienced team on the verge of success. That Blue Pony squad ended up achieving their goal of making it to the Class A state tournament as they went 7-3 in Central A conference play and 19-12 overall.
And while the 2003 Blue Ponies finished the season with a very respectable sixth place at the state tournament, Huebsch enters the 2004 campaign and an opening home match on Saturday afternoon against Butte Central with almost the same motto, but higher expectations.
"We are somewhat inexperienced when it comes to the varsity level," Huebsch said. "But so far I really like where we are at. We have some very talented young players on this team, and I actually think we are further ahead of where we were last season at this time."
It might be hard to believe that Huebsch could be so optimistic about the upcoming season after graduation seemingly devastated his roster.
The Ponies lost four very good seniors in Kelsey Smith, Alicia Overcast, all-stater Kristi Owens and Brittany Vandersloot.
But with some of the talent coming up from the junior varsity team as well as a solid group of returning players, Huebsch is indeed excited about the prospects of another run to the state tournament in 2004.
"We graduated some really important players and they are a group that will be tough to replace," he said. "We have to address needs on the outside and in the middle, but replacing Brittany Vandersloot is the biggest key. She was a quiet leader on this team and she did so many things well for us last year."
Although graduation was hard on Huebsch's varsity roster, the 2004 preseason has produced some new faces on the HHS team that has the veteran head coach very excited.
"Lena Suek and Carmen Neuens are two sophomores that are showing a lot of great things," Huebsch said. "They are young but they just seem to be getting better with every practice."
Joining the two sophomores are newcomers Liz Handy and Sjanetee D'Hooge in the middle. Juniors Cammie West and Karissa Olson will also be new on the varsity team this year and they will be counted on to be key contributors.
But not everyone on the floor will be new this season. Huebsch has four returning players that will provide some much needed experience to a young HHS roster.
Senior Kristin Evanson has been voted team captain and will be counted on to be a leader both on the floor and in the locker room.
Meanwhile, juniors Keelie Solomon, Kelsey Evans and Alexa Lipp are back, giving Huebsch a talented trio of players who are familiar with varsity volleyball.
"Kelsey Evans has really stepped in and filled Brittany's role right away and that is what we were hoping for," Huebsch said. "Keelie and Alexa are both performing really well right now. Keelie is a player who will be all over the place for us because she is really versatile and she can play several different places for us and do well wherever she is at."
The Ponies will need the experience of those four players because despite all of the young talent, Huebsch has been down this road before and he knows what to expect out of a youthful team.
"We have talked about the fact that we are inexperienced and we are going to make mistakes," Huebsch said. "Sometimes we may have long stretches of those mistakes, but as long as they stay focused on doing the little things and they keep improving then we will be fine.
"Our first goal is to make sure we keep getting better," he added. "They know that we need to be playing our best volleyball when divisionals roll around."
The Ponies can take the first step towards getting better when they step on the floor for their opening match of the season against the Maroons.
Butte Central returns a pair of experienced players according to Huebsch, but they did lose several seniors from last year's team.
Although the Maroons may be a little inexperienced, Huebsch still expects it to be a very tough match.
"Butte Central is typically very aggressive defensively," Huebsch said. "They dig up a lot of balls and they play a somewhat unorthodox style of volleyball.
"I think we match up with them very well," Huebsch added. "They big key to this match will be finishing off points. Our hitters should get a lot of opportunities and if we can finish well, we should be in good shape against them."
The match between Havre and Butte Central will get underway at 1:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium.