By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The teams and players will be the same, but the format will be different.
A week after facing Cut Bank, Conrad and Lewistown to open the season in Cut Bank, the Havre High tennis team will head west once again, this time for the Conrad Invitational on Friday.
Unlike last weekend's series of dual matches, the Conrad tournament will offer a true invitational format with a 16-person singles draw and an eight- team doubles draw.
"Even though it is the same teams, it will be good for our kids to play in an actual tournament format," said Havre High head coach George Ferguson. "It should give us an indication of how many points each of our teams is capable of scoring in a given tournament."
Perhaps the toughest of the four brackets will be the boys' singles tournament, which features two-time defending Class A champ Kyle Baltrusch and three-time defending Class B champ Keithan Gregg of Cut Bank.
Gregg didn't compete last weekend because of a death in the family, but he's supposed to be back this weekend and should battle it out with Baltrusch and Daine Solomon for the individual title.
"The boys' singles field should be very competitive with Kyle, Daine and if Keithan is back," Ferguson said. "Chase Castloo has the potential to be right in the thick of things and Lucas Hamilton should do well also."
Havre's Amy McLain and Megan Rice will be heavily favored to win girls' singles tournament. Both McLain and Rice went undefeated in last weekend's duals and could possibly meet in the championship match, but it is far from a given.
"Obviously, Amy and Megan should be the favorites based on how they played last weekend, but Lewistown and Conrad both have solid No.1 players, so it should be fairly competitive."
Ferguson is also looking for Karissa Olson and Christen Kittelson to have good showings despite the good competition.
In the doubles' tournaments, it will be the first weekend that Havre's No. 1 doubles teams for the boys and girls teams will play together.
Class A state tournament runner-ups Gary Wagner and Marc Mariani didn't play together last weekend and make their debut on Friday.
"This is the first time that Gary and Marc have been together in a match situation this season," Ferguson said. "I expect them to pick up right where they left off at the end of last season."
The girls No. 1 team of Steph Flatau and Keelie Solomon will also be playing in an official match since last year's state tournament, where they placed fourth.
"Like Gary and Marc, this is Steph and Keelie's first match of the year," Ferguson said. "I know they are really anxious to get on the court and play a real match. We are expecting big things from them this season and it all starts this weekend."
The Havre High boys will also debut a new team this weekend in Jordan Croft and John Christian. The duo knocked off last week's No. 2 team of Coda Tchida and Billy Wagner in a challenge match earlier this week and will make the trip to Conrad.
"It is their first match this season as well," Ferguson said. "But I am expecting them to come out and play well right away. We are going to need all three of our doubles teams to play well this season."
The girls No. 2 doubles team will also be new as Molly Proctor and Christi Hollingshead will play together for the first time. Both Proctor and Hollingshead competed last weekend, but with different partners.
As always, the unpredictable Montana weather could play a factor with forecasts predicting a chilly but precipitation-free day on Friday.
"Weather is always a factor, but hopefully the snow and rain hold off and we can get the tournament in, because the kids have been working really hard and need these early matches to evaluate where their game is at right now," Ferguson said. "We have a very challenging schedule at the end of the month and we need to use these matches to have us playing good tennis when it rolls around."