Havre Daily News Sports Editor
All season, the Havre High girls cross country team has been taking things one meet at a time, never looking any farther ahead than the race they were running.
That's tough to do considering the Ponies are one of the elite cross country teams in the state and the defending Class A champions. Finally, on Saturday in Missoula, the HHS girls can think about the one race they haven't thought about all season long - the 2005 Class A state meet.
“We really haven't talked about defending this state championship,” said HHS head coach Tim Ranes. “We have always tried to just focus on every meet from week to week.
“And hopefully this week will be no different,” he added. “I have tried to get the girls to treat this race just like every other race they have run this season.”
In theory, Ranes' plan sounds good. But this is the meet that could vault Havre High into the stratosphere as far as Class A cross country is concerned. And, standing in the Blue Ponies' way is a dominant team from Ronan. The Maidens recently outran the Blue Ponies at a meet in East Glacier, making them - not Havre - the team to beat on Saturday.
Ranes said Miles City also will be tough to beat.
“I think that those teams and us are really the three teams that will battle it out this weekend,” he said.
To improve Havre's chances, Ranes has been aiming his team toward getting its pack time down to a minute or less, and the Ponies achieved that feat last Saturday at the Central A meet in Livingston. If HHS does that again on Saturday, he said, it will be in very good shape.
“The girls ran a great race at divisionals,” Ranes said. “If they compete like that again, I think we will be pretty tough to beat.
“But with Miles City and Ronan, things are going to be pretty close in the end,” he added.
Individually the Ponies are as strong as any team in the field. Darcie Briere and McKayla Patterson lead the Havre High contingent, and Ranes said both runners are potential top five finishers. Meredith Hanson, Kristine Keltgen and Mandi Nystrom should also provide Havre with solid scoring and are likely to finish in the top 20 runners.
“I think we have two or three kids who could potentially get into the top five or 10,” Ranes said. “But if our pack time is as consistent as it was last week, all of our girls should do very well at state.”
While the HHS girls are veterans of the Class A state meet, the same cannot be said for the Havre High boys. The team is only in its second year of existence as a school-sponsored sport, but is steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with.
The Ponies finished second last week at the Central A divisional meet. Although they aren't expected to be in the hunt for a state championship this weekend, Ranes is confident the team will have some success.
“I certainly think we can finish in the top five teams,” Ranes said. “We would have to really have our best race of the season to get much higher.
“But this team is running well, and they have come a long way this season,” he added. “So I think they can do very well at state.”
The Ponies are led by the likes of Robert Brooks and Marcus Campbell, both veterans of distance running. The emergence of Andy Keim has given Havre even more depth. Keim placed second at the Central A divisional and will be expected to aid in Havre's cause this week.
Jade Nystrom, C.J. Leeds, Jeff Hedstrom and Richard Jarvis all had high finishes at the divisional meet as well.
“I think any of our top five boys can lead us any given week,” Ranes said. “But Andy is running really well right now, so he should do very well again this week.
“I think we have three or four guys that are capable of finishing in the top 10 or top 15 individually,” he added.
Of course, just competing at the state meet is exciting for a team that didn't exist three years ago. Regardless of how the Pony boys do this weekend in Missoula, Ranes is confident the program is headed in the right direction.
“I am really pleased with how things have progressed,” Ranes said. “I am very excited about our boys team, and we have a lot of good runners coming back next year.
“So I think this state meet will be very good for us in the long run,” Ranes added.
The meet will be held at the University of Montana Golf Course. It is a relatively flat course, but has one very long and trying hill.
The 2005 Class A state cross country meet will get under way on Saturday with the girls race at 1:30 p.m. The Class A boys race will immediately follow the girls race.