Havre Daily News Sports Editor
One team will look to continue its long tournament win streak, while the other hopes to get one started.
Regardless, the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams come into this weekend's Central A Divisional tournament in Butte as the defending champs. And both teams and head coach George Ferguson have aspirations for a repeat of last year's performance.
For the Havre High boys, winning the tournament is as close to a sure thing as the there is in high school tennis. A year ago, Havre lost its No. 2 singles player just days before the tourney and still won with relative ease.
Last year's title was the sixth straight for the Ponies. This year the results should be the same. The only difference is that the Ponies come in with the same lineup they've had for most of the season.
"Our boys team has had a lot of success at this tournament over the past six years, but they are still motivated to do more," Ferguson said. "I think we are more of a veteran team this season and a little deeper, so we have a good chance to get a large number of boys to the state tournament."
The experience seems to be everywhere on the Pony boys roster, led by three-time divisional singles champ Kyle Baltrusch, who also holds the record for most wins and points scored in the tournament and is 18-4 on the season. Baltrusch has yet to lose a match at the divisional and Ferguson doesn't see that changing any time soon.
"Kyle has had a tremendous senior season thus far and it hasn't been easy for him," Ferguson said. "He had so much success so early in his career that it has to be hard for him to continue to play at such a high level for all these years."
Baltrusch defeated teammate and Ponies' No. 2 player Chase Castloo in last year's championship match. Castloo brings a 15-6 record to Butte and a perfect scenario would be facing Baltrusch in the singles championship.
"Chase will be one of Kyle's top challengers," Ferguson said. "He has really raised the level of his game this season."
The remaining singles spots will go to Scott Miller at No. 3 and Todd Roe at No. 4. Miller has played the entire season at No. 3, racking up a solid 18-7 record, while Roe, a talented freshman, recently made his ascension to the varsity permanently and is 6-1 on the season.
"Scott Miller and Todd Roe also have a very good chance of making the state tournament," Ferguson said. "But they will have to beat some good competition in order to do it. Scott has played some very good tennis in the last month of the season. He will be a player that other schools need to watch out for this weekend."
In doubles, the duo of Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner are poised to win a second straight divisional doubles title and remain undefeated on the season. They come in with a perfect 17-0 record against some of the best competition the state has to offer. A year ago, they defeated teammates Coda Tchida and Billy Wagner in the finals. And Ferguson predicts that a rematch in the championship is a real possibility. Tchida and Billy Wagner come in with an 18-4 record.
"I really like how we stack up in doubles," Ferguson said. "Obviously, Marc and Gary will be heavy favorites to repeat this weekend and they are in top form right now. But Coda and Billy have played so well this season that they will also be very tough for anybody to beat.
The Ponies will also have a very good team at the No. 3 spot with Lucas Hamilton and John Christian racking up an 18-3 record on the season.
"Our No. 3 team of Lucas Hamilton and John Christian also gives us some good depth," Ferguson said. "If they play their best this weekend, they should give us a good shot at getting all three of our doubles teams to the state tournament."
The best competitors that the boys will see will be Livingston's No. 1 singles player Fabian Wummel, Lewistown's No. 1 Michael Richter and Lewistown's No. 1 doubles team of Stephen and Matt Gruener. And like any coach, Ferguson won't make any guarantees.
"This should be a little more competitive of a divisional tournament than in years past," Ferguson said. "Livingston adding a boys team instantly makes the singles draw a little deeper and it means that the four spots up for grabs become a little harder to achieve.
"Lewistown should also have a say in how the team title shakes out."
While the Pony boys look to continue their lengthy title run, the Pony girls hope to start one of their own.
A year ago, Havre shocked the Central A, ending Livingston's five-year run as girls champs. They will look to repeat the difficult task this season. But it should be easier, considering the Ponies return just about everybody from last year's team.
"The Central A girls tournament has also been one of the strongest divisionals in Class A every year," Ferguson said. "Last year, I think we surprised some people by scoring so many points and placing three singles players. This season will be just as tough and we won't be a secret to anybody. People expect us to be tough to beat this weekend and hopefully we are up to that challenge."
One team that should be up to the challenge is the Livingston Rangers. Led by singles players Annah Orrasmith and Sissy Story and the doubles team of Agnes Kesting and Meghan Foote, the Rangers should have a little revenge on their minds.
"Livingston will once again be very tough," Ferguson said. "They are strong at the top in both singles and doubles and they have the capabilities to score a lot of points like we did last season. They were a young team like us last season, so the head-to-head matches with them should be very close."
Havre returns the defending singles champ in senior Amy McLain, who will come in as the obvious favorite with a 21-5 record on the season. McLain was barely tested last year at the divisional and should be in the title match again.
"Amy should be ready to defend her title," Ferguson said. "She has had to play one of the most difficult schedules any No. 1 singles player could ever play. She has played matches against the best of both Class AA and A this season and those battles should only help her this weekend."
Havre's No. 2 player Megan Rice (17-7) will be looking to improve on her solid third-place finish last year. Like McLain, she played a bear of a schedule this season and has raised her level of play every week, according to Ferguson.
"Megan should also do very well this weekend," he said. "She is starting to really play some solid tennis and no one should overlook her this weekend."
Havre will go with freshman phenom Katie Mariani at No. 3 and Karissa Olson, who finished fourth a year ago, at No. 4. Mariani comes in with a gaudy 20-2 record, while Olson is 12-3 in limited varsity action.
"Because of the emergence of Katie and the always steady play of Karissa, our singles lineup makes us a team that can score a ton of points this weekend," Ferguson said. "If the brackets work out in our favor and we play our best, we should be very difficult to beat in singles."
In doubles, Havre's No. 1 team of Keelie Solomon and Steph Flatau look to return to the divisional championship match for the second straight year, only with different results.
A year ago, Solomon and Flatau lost to Lewistown's No. 1 team of Devin Nelson and Alira Carpenter in a three-set heartbreaker. The two teams appear headed on a collision course for a rematch in the finals.
"The doubles portion of this tournament hasn't changed from last year," Ferguson said. "Steph and Keelie along with the No. 1's from Lewistown and Livingston are all very even and a year older.
"I know Steph and Keelie want to finally get over that hump this season, and they have been playing the kind of tennis this year that might just get them there. But they know their competition well and they know this tournament is very tough in doubles."
Havre's No. 2 team of Kari Gorder and Kristi Hollingshead finished 2-2 last year at divisional, and this year comes into the tournament with a 15-8 record, while Havre's No. 3 of Alexa Lipp and Hailey McLain are 12-4 on the season.
"One thing that has changed this season is our depth in doubles," Ferguson said. "Kari and Kristi have improved a ton and Alexa and Hailey have become a great third doubles team for us. Those two teams make us a very strong team from top-to-bottom. We'll be counting on that depth this weekend."
The Central A Divisional will begin on Friday at 8:30 a.m. in Butte. The girls will play at Stodden Park and the boys at Father Sheehan Park. On Saturday, play will begin at 8 a.m. at Stodden Park.