By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The halls of Havre High School will once again be abuzz with activity on Thursday morning as the 2004-05 school year gets under way. For some, the beginning of school signals the official end of summer, but not for the HHS golf team.
The Ponies' summer of golf continues right into fall, and the team opens its season today in Great Falls.
Many things have changed for the Blue Pony golfers since their fall season came to an end 10 months ago.
Veteran head coach Keith Evenson retired from his position as the HHS head coach after a very successful run that included a pair of Class A state championships, several Central A boys divisional titles as well as a girls title last year.
But the Blue Pony golf program will still be in experienced hands, as Carla Bolken steps in after nine seasons as assistant coach to take over the program. Bolken will be assisted by new HHS girls basketball head coach Jason Wirt.
"This is a very exciting time for me," Bolken said. "I am really looking forward to getting the season started.
"Practice has been going really well and I think the transition has been very smooth," she added. "I have tried to change very little with this program and I think things are going really well."
The first real test for Bolken will come today in Great Falls at the Great Falls Invitational. Not only is this her first meet as head coach, but she is taking two fairly inexperienced squads to a meet, and they will be opening the season with the possibility of inclement weather.
"The weather for this week doesn't look too good," Bolken said. "We have several boys and girls who are playing their first meet of varsity golf and that is a big concern going in. It would be nice for them to get things off to a really good start, and the weather could make that tough on them."
The HHS boys team has gone through significant changes in recent years. For several seasons now the successful Blue Pony boys have graduated at least one top player, and 2004 is no different.
Havre High has said goodbye to four-year standout Trent Normandy, the medalist at the Class A state meet in Polson. Havre also graduated a quality player in Chazz Hurlburt.
Bolken does return senior Ben Erickson. Erickson has played on the HHS varsity squad for the past two seasons, and he will be expected to provide leadership on an otherwise young Blue Pony squad.
Also back for Havre High is sophomore Matt Hedstrom, who was a pleasant surprise for the 2004 Ponies. As a freshman, he had a very solid postseason. He will begin the year at No. 1 for the Ponies. Sophomore Brandon Job also has a little varsity experience for HHS. He will start the year at No. 4, just behind Erickson. Rounding out the HHS roster are newcomers Anthony Wirtzberger at No. 2 and Sean Strand at No. 5.
"I think it is fair to say our boys team is pretty inexperienced," Bolken said. "But we have some very good golfers on our team and our young players are going to get better.
"All of our boys have been playing throughout the summer and shooting good scores," Bolken added. "I think that winning the divisional tournament is a realistic goal, and I think we have a chance to do very well at state."
The HHS girls team has also undergone some major changes in the last year. The Ponies enter the young season as the defending Central A champions, but like many other schools in Class A girls golf, Havre is short on numbers. The Ponies have just five players out for golf this season, which is just enough to field a full varsity team.
"Obviously, we would like our numbers to be better and I haven't given up on more girls coming out," Bolken said. "But the one advantage to this is that the kids know where they stand right from the start. They know where everyone is going to be and who you have each week."
Havre returns two players from last year's varsity team and both are very solid golfers. Senior Brittany Job is back after a very steady 2003 campaign. Sophomore Alli Ward also played every week on the varsity last season, including a very solid showing at the state meet in Polson. Joining Ward and Job this season will be a pair of talented freshmen in Stacy Sheppard and Haley McLain. Senior Cathy Beecher is back on the HHS golf team after missing the last couple of seasons.
"We have a very young team, but both Brittany and Alli have a lot of experience and they are playing very good right now," Bolken said. "I think that with time our girls team can be very good. We just need to get our new players some experience so they can improve."
Providing the weather cooperates, both HHS golf teams should get a lot of experience right away. Havre will be in Great Falls today and Tuesday and will compete in a meet in Lewistown on Friday morning.
The Great Falls Invite gets under way today with the boys playing at Gannon Ranch Golf Club. The girls will be in action at Anaconda Hills. Both teams will then wrap up the 36-hole event at Eagle Falls on Tuesday.