By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Even though the start of the Central A volleyball tournament is still four days away, the Havre Blue Ponies are now just two wins away from reaching the Class A state tournament for the second consecutive year.
Thanks in large part to a pair of Central A conference home wins over Livingston and Belgrade on Saturday, the Havre High volleyball team and head coach Bill Huebsch have earned a second-place finish in the final Central A regular season standings.
That means the Ponies will have a first-round bye at the divisional tournament in Livingston later this week. More importantly, they will just need to win twice somewhere in the tourney in order to move on to the state tournament.
"I am really proud of the girls for what they have accomplished the last couple weeks," Huebsch said. "They knew what was at stake and that we are fighting for a state tournament berth. There has been a lot of pressure on this team to finish behind Lewistown in our conference, and they responded very well to it."
The Ponies opened up on Saturday afternoon with a three-game 25-20, 25-21, 25-13 romp over the Livingston Rangers. Huebsch said his team played especially well from start to finish and set the tone for their final match of the regular season with the Panthers.
"We did a lot of things really well against Livingston," Huebsch said. "The kids came out ready to play and they played at a very high level. It was a very good tuneup for our match with Belgrade later that night."
The Ponies got seven kills from Sjanetee D'Hooge and four blocks from Lena Suek in the win. Keelie Solomon also had five of Havre's 11 aces. Jennifer Neville led the Rangers with six kills and 3 blocks.
With a win in hand, the Ponies needed to finish the regular season y knocking off Belgrade in order to secure second place alone in the Central A standings.
Four games later, Havre had done exactly that, taking care of the Panthers 25-21, 25-19, 18-25, 25-19. While the Ponies did drop the third game of the contest, they were seemingly in control of the match from start to finish. Despite a lackluster hitting performance on the night, Havre still controlled the match. Huebsch credited his defense and passing for the win.
"We got really solid play from our back row and they passed the ball extremely well," Huebsch said. "Kelsey Evans, Keelie Solomon and Karissa Olson all played strong in the back row, and our defense and passing really pulled us through in that match.
"We probably served better and hit the ball better against Livingston," Huebsch added. "But we had a great team effort and the girls got it done against Belgrade."
D'Hooge once again led the Ponies' charge offensively, as she had 12 kills and three blocks. Solomon and Evans had 10 digs apiece. Amy Bolen led Belgrade with 13 kills in the losing effort.
With the two wins on Saturday, the Ponies finish the regular season with a 15-7 overall record and a 7-3 conference mark.
Havre will now travel to Livingston on Friday for the Central A divisional tournament. The Ponies will await the winner of a first-round match between Belgrade and Browning.
"I think our team has come a long way from where we were in August, and I am really proud of them for that," Huebsch said. "We are going into divisionals playing pretty good volleyball, and we are riding high with a lot of momentum and confidence.
"I know the girls are very excited for Friday to get here and get the tournament started."
Havre def. Livingston
25-20, 25-21, 25-13
Havre - Kills: 22 (Sjanette D'Hooge 7). Assists: 20 (Alexa Lipp 14). Aces: 11 (Keelie Soloman 5). Digs: 37 (Kelsey Evans 6). Blocks: 4 (Lena Suek).
Livingston - Kills: 15 (Jennifer Neville 6). Assists: 14 (Octavia Counts 8). Aces: 5 (Agnes Kesting 2, Counts 2). Digs: 53 (Brianna Ackerman 10, Kesting 10). Blocks: 24 (Neville 13).
Havre def. Belgrade
25-21, 25-19, 18-25, 25-19
Havre - Kills: 45 (Sjanette D'Hooge 12). Assists: 39 (Alexa Lipp 39). Aces: 2 (Keelie Soloman 1, Lipp 1). Digs: 54 (Kelsey Evans 10, Solomon 10. Blocks: 6 (D'Hooge 3).
Belgrade - Kills: 35 (Amy Bolen 13). Assists: 33 (Jessie Greany 16). Aces: 7 (Megan Knuchel 3). Digs: 43 (Elizabeth Coughlin 11). Blocks: 6 (Jessica Hespen 4).