By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
For Havre High tennis coach George Ferguson, the tennis season has flown by at a speed faster than an Andy Roddick serve.
This weekend's Great Falls Team Invitational will be one of the last opportunities for competition for his boys and girls tennis squads before the Central A Divisional two weeks from today.
"This is a very big weekend for both of our teams in term of competition and preparation," Ferguson said. "We only have one meet left after this and then a 14-day break before divisional. So we need to get a lot out of our four duals this weekend."
But Ferguson is quick to admit that the spirit of competition makes this tournament a little different since it is a team dual tourney rather than an individual one.
"This tournament is also a lot of fun because it is pure team tennis," he said. "Hopefully our kids all rally around each other and push each other all weekend."
However, the Havre High teams won't quite be at full strength as the State Music Festival will deplete the girls roster significantly and make some changes on the boys.
No. 1 doubles player Steph Flatau will be gone this weekend along with No. 3 singles player Karissa Olson.
Flatau's doubles partner Keelie Solomon will play No. 3 singles in Saturday's competition, but won't play Friday.
With the No. 1 doubles team out, all the remaining doubles teams will move up a spot with Kari Gorder and Kristi Hollingshead playing at No. 1, Jocelyn Chagnon and Molly Proctor at No. 2 while Angie Maxwell and Samantha Boucher will make their varsity debut as the No. 3 doubles squad.
"We have some very inexperienced girls in the lineup which will make things tough," Ferguson said. "But this weekend will be good experience for some of our younger players we are taking."
In the girls singles, Havre's two most experienced players will be there all weekend. No. 1 Amy McLain and No. 2 Megan Rice will be counted on heavily all weekend. Win or lose, for either player, Ferguson views this as more preparation for his top two players.
"Amy and Megan get one more chance to play some very good completion which is what they really need right now," Ferguson said. "They are both playing great tennis, but playing the top singles players in Class AA will make them even better and keep them sharp as we get to the end of the season.
Rounding out the singles lineup will be Christen Kittelson at No. 3 for Friday's matches and Katy Dow at No. 4.
The Havre girls will face solid competition immediately meeting a CMR squad they narrowly defeated on Tuesday in Great Falls. They will also take on the top girls team in Class AA in the Bozeman Hawks. On Saturday, the HHS girls will play Butte and Billings Skyview.
For the Havre boys team, it will get the immediate chance to avenge its first dual loss of the season when it opens with CMR, which defeated Havre 4-3 on Tuesday.
"The first day of the tournament will be a big challenge for the boys," Ferguson said. "We start with a rematch against CMR and they won't overlook us at all after Tuesday. And then play Bozeman, which will also be very good. Those two teams are traditionally two of the best in Class AA."
The Havre boys weren't hit quite as hard by the music festival with only No. 3 player Lucas Hamilton missing on Saturday. Ferguson will move Chase Castloo back to that spot and insert Jordan Croft in Castloo's place with John Christian on the No 3 doubles team.
But today, Havre will roll out the same lineup that lost to CMR, the top team in Class AA, 4-3. Daine Solomon will stay at No. 1 with Kyle Baltrusch at No. 2, Hamilton at No. 3 and Scott Miller at No. 4.
The doubles will also be the same with Gary Wagner and Marc Mariani at No. 1, Coda Tchida and Billy Wagner at No. 2 and Christian and Castloo at No. 3.
Havre nearly ended CMR's 11-match dual winning streak as Solomon and Baltrusch and Wagner and Mariani picked up key wins. Those wins won't be quite as easy today.
"CMR is definitely going to come out and try to prove that they're better than showed on Tuesday," Ferguson said. "If they overlooked us before, they won't make the same mistake again."
Things won't be any easier tonight against Bozeman or on Saturday against Butte and Billings Skyview for the Ponies.
"Butte is very much improved," Ferguson said. "There are no easy duals. We could easily finish the weekend 4-0 or 1-3 depending on whether our top players play to their capabilities and our younger players step forward."
The Havre-CMR dual is at 2 p.m. today. The Ponies will face Bozeman at 6:30 tonight. On Saturday. Havre will face Butte at 10 a.m. and Skyview at 2 p.m.