Havre Daily News Sports Editor
We're starting to run out of adjectives here. A year ago, we needed to use adjectives that started with the letter F to go with five.
Now, for the Havre High boys tennis team, we're looking for "S" adjectives as they try for a scintillating sixth Class A state title, starting on Thursday morning Lewistown.
The Ponies will come in as the perennial tournament favorite, after winning the team title the past five seasons, including last year's championship in Billings.
"Even though our boys team has been dominant in this tournament for a long time, I don't think this weekend will be easy at all," Ferguson said. "Graduation affected how we've practiced this last week, which definitely has an affect. I think it will be very tough for us to come out on top."
Ferguson is also quick to point out how much deeper the boys singles and doubles draws are this year. It seems like each year it grows a little tougher for the Pony boys to maintain their perch atop the Class A world.
Still, Havre comes into the tournament with nine players competing in the tourney, including the defending champions in the singles and doubles.
In the singles, senior Kyle Baltrusch will be looking to etch his name in the Montana tennis history by winning his fourth consecutive Class A singles state title.
"Kyle is certainly the favorite in the field this weekend, but he will have tough challengers," Ferguson said. "Polson has two very good singles players and Colin Fehr from Corvallis is probably the player to beat on the other side of the bracket.
"No matter who he plays, winning this tournament will not be easy, but if anyone is up to the challenge I think it is Kyle."
Baltrusch will open with the No. 4 seed from the Western A Division, Frederic Von Schweitzen of Columbia Falls.
Besides Baltrusch, No. 2 singles player Chase Castloo and No. 3 Scott Miller also qualified for the tourney.
Castloo will face Western A's No. 2 seed Brian Dubuque of Polson, while Miller will face the No. 1 seed from the West in Polson's Andy Dykstra.
"Chase and Scott both have very difficult draws because of upsets in the Western A Divisional," Ferguson said. "But I think that Chase is someone who can score a bunch of points for us, if he is at his best.
"There won't be anything easy for him or any of our singles players this weekend, but Chase and Scott are more than capable of doing very well in this tournament."
In the doubles, defending champion Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner come in as the odd-on favorite for a repeat this season.
Mariani and Wagner have yet to lose a match this season when teamed together. They could very easily run the table with some solid tennis this weekend. Mariani and Wagner open with the No. 4 team from the Southern Divisional in Andy Southwick and Matt Sterling of Hamilton.
"Marc and Gary are certainly the favorite in the doubles draw, but they won't have an easy time either," Ferguson said. "There are three or four good doubles teams in the field."
One of those good teams is Havre's No. 2 doubles team of Coda Tchida and Billy Wagner.
Tchida and Wagner lost to their teammates in last weekend's Central A Divisional championship match, but they have a solid chance of placing this weekend. They will take on Jordan Hooten and Forrest Jessop of Corvallis, who finished third in the Southern A Divisional.
"Coda and Billy have emerged as a team who can certainly grab a medal this weekend, if they play good tennis," Ferguson said.
Havre's No. 3 team of Lucas Hamilton and John Christian have also qualified for state and will face the No. 1 team from the South in Stevensville's Thor Renstrom and Abe McCormick.
"Lucas and John will also have a tough draw because the fourth place team from any division always plays a very good team right off the bat," Ferguson said. "But they are playing really good tennis right now and they will be a team that nobody can afford to overlook this weekend."
There are plenty of tough teams that could vie for the doubles titles, including Laine Averill and Pete Collins of Bigfork, Tony Gold and Geoff Fehr of Corvallis and Logan Klein and Brett Vandeberg of Polson. Still, the tournament belongs to Mariani and Gary Wagner if they want it. Their talent and experience is just much greater than any other team in the tourney.
"Marc and Gary have won this tournament and have been here all four years," Ferguson said. "They know exactly what they have to do in order to be successful this weekend."
Much of Havre's team title hopes fall directly on their defending champions to repeat. There are plenty of teams willing to take it from them, should the Ponies slip up.
"Our toughest battles will come from Corvallis, Polson and Bigfork," Ferguson said. "Corvallis is probably the deepest team in the field. Polson is also a very dangerous team because they are very good in singles and they also have a very good doubles team."
Points are going to be very hard to come by this week and the state title will certainly be up for grabs. Having said that, our kids know what it takes to get this done and they will be fired up and ready to play come Thursday morning."
For Ferguson, he is hoping some remaining F adjectives will hopefully be used for the HHS girls, who have an outside shot at their first state title in school history.
The Pony girls come into the tournament fresh off their second straight Central A Divisional team title. Besides this year's success, Havre finished third a year ago at state - securing only the second state trophy in school history.
With only five girls qualified, the short-handed Ponies must come up with some big performances to garner another trophy this season.
"I definitely think we are in the hunt for a trophy this weekend, but there is stiff competition everywhere," Ferguson said. "Bigfork is loaded in doubles and if they end up in the right draw that might be enough for them."
Dillon also brings a great singles player and a good doubles team, while defending champ Whitefish has two of the best singles players in the tournament.
"I think this year we are a little deeper and a little more experienced than when we took third a year ago," Ferguson said. "The brackets are somewhat in our favor but this will be a dogfight of a tournament because I truly believe that Class A may have the most talented tennis in all of Montana girls."
Havre is led by No. 1 singles player Amy McLain, who finished third at last year's state tourney. McLain lost a heartbreaker to eventual champion Dani Paulson of Whitefish, but rallied to defeat Eve Xanthopolous of Dillon in the consolation
"Amy has what I would call a tough, but favorable draw," Ferguson said. "Last year, she had to play Paulson in the semis, this year she wouldn't see her until the finals. But there are several great players in the draw and every match in girls singles is tough, even in the first round."
Besides Paulson and Xanthopolous, Shannon Hatzell of Billings Central, Amy Barnes of Hamilton and Jen Orchard of Polson are all quality players. McLain will face Tabatha Carroll of Dillon in the first round.
"Amy's game has matured so much since last year," Ferguson said. "She has more shots in her arsenal to use and she can adapt to different styles of play. She is such a savvy singles player that she is certainly one of the players to beat this weekend.
Havre's No. 2 singles player Megan Rice hopes to continue her recent solid play and grab a medal at the tournament. Rice finished second last weekend at the Central A Divisional, losing to McLain.
"I am really excited about how Megan Rice played at divisional," Ferguson said. "Megan has been a great player for two years now, but she went to a whole other level last week."
Rice will open with Brooke Cornelius of Ronan, which is a winnable match. Her success will have a great affect on Havre's team chances.
"Megan was a huge reason why we were so successful last weekend," Ferguson said. "If she continues her fine play, she will only make us that much better this weekend."
Havre's No. 3 singles player Katie Mariani also qualified as a freshman after finishing fourth last weekend. Because of her fourth-place, Mariani gets the unenviable task of facing Xanthopolous in the first round.
"Katie has tough-luck draw playing Eve in the first round," Ferguson said. "But Katie is the type of player who will frustrate her opponent by making them work hard. It doesn't matter how much more skilled they might be."
It's that type of game that has Ferguson very positive about Mariani making some waves in the singles bracket.
"Eve or any other player that runs into Katie this weekend better not overlook her," Ferguson said. "Because at this point in the season, she really isn't a freshman anymore and she has learned how to win under difficult circumstances."
Havre will only have one team in the doubles draw, but it is a very good team in Keelie Solomon and Steph Flatau. The Ponies No. 1 doubles team finished second at the Central A Divisional, losing to Alira Carpenter and Devin Nelson in a three-set heartbreaker.
"The doubles draw is very interesting and very deep again this year," Ferguson said. "Really there are as many as six teams that could win a state championship this year and Steph and Keelie are definitely on of those six."
Besides Carpenter and Nelson and Flatau and Solomon, Bigfork's Kaia Lock and Ashley Brunette, Dillon's Theresa Bennett and Jenna Nield, Stevensville's Alicia Jessop and Emma Loughlin and Polson's Malika Erickson and Emily Fors are all capable of winning the title.
Flatau and Solomon will open with Beth Bermel and Trisha Smith of Bigfork, however they will most likely one of the top teams in the quarterfinals.
"Steph and Keelie have a difficult road ahead but they are so mentally tough and they have been playing together so long now, that they are tough for anyone to beat them," Ferguson said.
Flatau and Solomon have already tasted some success at state, finishing fourth the last two season. Ferguson hopes they can go even higher this season.
"If they play their best tennis this weekend, this could finally be the weekend where they get over the hump and achieve what they have been striving for over the last three years," he said.
Ferguson knows that despite being shorthanded, his girls team is anticipating a chance at a trophy and possibly a title.
"This is a very exciting weekend for our girls team," he said. "We are going into the state tournament playing very well and the girls have a lot of confidence right now."
The Class A State Tennis Tournament will begin on Thursday morning at 8 a.m. It will continue on Friday morning at 8 a.m. and wrap up around 3 p.m.