By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The road to this weekend's Class A state golf tournament in Sidney had two different routes for the Havre High golf teams.
The HHS girls enter Friday morning's competition at the Sidney Country Club as the two-time defending Central A champions. Meanwhile, the HHS boys come into Sidney barely breathing after a third-place finish in Lewistown last weekend.
Despite the different ways the two teams got to Sidney, they are both in the same situation when teams tee off, because both teams will be underdogs next to some of the "big guns" in Class A golf.
On the boys side of things, it is no secret who the favorite is. Nobody familiar with high school golf will be shocked if the Whitefish Bulldogs capture the Class A title on Saturday afternoon. In fact, it would be more shocking if the Bulldogs didn't win.
Whitefish has dominated the field of every tournament it has been in this season. Individual top tens placings in tournaments this year have been littered with Whitefish competitors.
With almost no other team competing at that level, it seems like every other team is playing for second, including a Havre High team that only qualified for the state tournament by four strokes.
Still, first-year head coach Carla Bolken knows there is still a lot that her team can accomplish this weekend in Sidney.
"Our goal all season has been to bring home a trophy from the state tournament," Bolken said of the HHS boys team. "It is tough because everyone knows how good Whitefish is, but we still have a very good chance at placing this weekend."
In order for Havre to achieve its goals this weekend, the Ponies will have to do something they have not done in several weeks - play well from top to bottom.
The Ponies got solid performances from Ben Erickson and Brandon Job at the divisional tournament, but Matt Hedstrom, Sean Strand and Anthony Wirtzberger couldn't break 90. Consequently, the Ponies could not defend their Central A title for the first time in five years. Bolken said that all five of her players must play well both days this weekend if they plan on grabbing a trophy.
"They will all have to bring their A games to this tournament," Bolken said. "That is something they haven't done in a couple of weeks, but I know they are capable of doing it. I think it will take a score in the 320s to get a trophy and if our kids play well, they can get there."
Individually, the young Ponies are probably outnumbered this weekend. Havre has had at least one top ten player in the state tournament field for the last six seasons. Senior Ben Erickson is expected to do that this weekend, if he continues the fine play that he has shown this season.
"I think Ben has a realistic chance of finishing anywhere in the top ten," Bolken said. "But there are some very good players in the boys tournament and this is a new course for all of them, so it will be a tough two days of golf for all of our kids."
Other trophy contenders on the boys side this weekend will include Billings Central, Dillon and Polson.
While the HHS girls team had quite a different divisional tournament than their male counterparts in Lewistown, they too will be up against some stiff competition this weekend.
Although many Class A schools don't field full girls teams, there are still some very deep teams in Sidney this weekend. Polson and Whitefish have gone back and forth all season as the two most feared teams in girls Class A golf. However, Miles City has put together a strong season on the Eastern end of the state and has played the Sidney course before.
"Polson beat Whitefish at the divisional tournament, and that kind of surprised some people," Bolken said. "And Miles City has three really good players which makes them a very strong contender for a trophy this weekend. Any one of those three teams has a chance at winning this tournament because they are all deeper than everybody else."
As for her own team, Bolken fears that youth and inexperience may get in the way of bringing home hardware this weekend.
The Ponies have just four varsity playersx and two are freshmen making their first state tournament appearance in Stacy Sheppard and Hailey McLain. However, Havre does have two of the top individual golfers in the field in sophomore Ali Ward and senior Brittany Job. The duo went 1-2 at divisionals last weekend and both are top ten contenders this weekend.
With that mix of experience and youth, Bolken believes that her team could contend for a trophy this weekend, but that it will be a daunting task.
"I think that both Brittany and Ali are very capable of placing this weekend," Bolken said. "But as a team we have two freshmen who are still relatively new to this. Stacy and Hailey are improving steadily but this is their first state tournament and it will be a lot to ask out of them to score well enough to place.
"Our team has gotten better every week and our two freshmen have come a long way since the beginning of the season," Bolken added. "But this is a very strong year in girls golf in Class A, so it will be difficult for us to compete against some of the teams that are really deep."
The nature of the game of golf also means that the Ponies will not have to just beat other schools to be successful this weekend, but they will have to beat a course that few have seen before they play a practice round on this afternoon.
The Sidney Country Club is a long, rolling layout with a new back nine that was put in just two years ago. The course features a front nine that is mostly uphill and lined with large cottonwood trees. The back nine is more wide open but is just as lengthy. Bolken said that from what she knows of the layout, it will be a true test of golf for every competitor in the field.
"I know the course is very long," Bolken said. "The front nine has a par five that is 610 yards for the boys. I also know the greens are very big so the pins could be in some very tough spots this weekend.
"I am sure they will have the course set up pretty difficult," she added. "Our kids and everyone there will have to play some very good golf this weekend in order to shoot good scores."
The 2004 Class A state tournament will get under way at 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning and continue through Saturday afternoon.