Havre Daily News
The 2004-05 season was the year of the Blue Pony. First off, the football team won a state championship. Then, after a 17-4 regular season and a No. 1 seed in the Central A divisional basketball tournament, it appeared the boys basketball team was headed for glory as well.
Then their dreams came crashing down. In 2005-06, the Ponies will look to take care of unfinished business.
Tonight the Blue Ponies begin their quest to atone for the end of last season when they visit Central A rival Livingston at 7. Havre will also face conference rival Belgrade on Saturday.
Jared Weigel is the only returning starter from last year's team, but that does not necessarily mean the Ponies are inexperienced. They bring back Logan Grant, Michael Barton, Jeremy Giardina and Tanner Veis to give the Ponies an all-senior starting five.
“All those guys mostly came off the bench last year except for Jared,” second-year HHS head coach John Barnhorst said.
“The varsity level is obviously a little higher level, but I am not worried. These kids are smart and they know how to play.”
Two players who didn't start last year but received significant playing time a year ago and figure to play big roles this year are Giardina and Barton.
Giardina will play the role of the point guard for the Ponies, and he will be trusted to not only run the offense and take care of the basketball, but also be challenged to take on the larger leadership role that naturally comes with that position.
“Jeremy is the point man. He is running the show,” Barnhorst said. “Jeremy is a good ballhandler and he is a good scorer. He is also taking on a larger leadership role this year and that's something he hasn't really done in the past.”
Barton will be the Ponies' main scoring threat in the low post in 2005-06. He will play a key role in the team's success, not only because of his ability to score down low, but also his ability to rebound and defend the paint.
“Barton is a load down low,” Barnhorst said. “He can score around the basket and is a good presence down low that can alter shots. He gives us that presence down low, as well as rebounding.”
Weigel also will play a big role for the Ponies this season. Weigel is a very strong, balanced player who can score, both inside and outside. He should also add a solid defensive presence as well as consistent rebounding for the Ponies.
“Jared is definitely going to be a big part of what we do this year,” Barnhorst said.
Veis will contribute to the Ponies with his solid passing and good medium-range jump shot. Grant can also add some solid perimeter shooting for the Ponies.
Havre should also get a solid contribution from bench players like Scott Miller, Tanner Donovan and Jeremiah Moog, who will all play solid minutes off the bench for the Ponies in '05-06.
“Our bench play should be pretty solid,” Barnhorst said. “We do not lose a whole lot when we have to go to our bench.”
The style of play for the Ponies should be a little different this season, as they will not look to apply as much full-court pressure as they did last season. But they will still look to go out and run off of missed baskets.
The Ponies will also be playing a little bit more small ball this season due to the fact that, besides Barton, the Ponies lack some size.
All in all, the Ponies should be very competitive this season in the Central A Division, even though Havre and everybody else will be chasing Butte Central, which returns pretty much its entire roster from a team that made it to the state championship game a year ago.
“Butte Central is head and shoulders above everybody else right now,” Barnhorst said.
However, after Butte Central the league race should be very wide open, and the Ponies will have as good a chance as any to be near the top of the league by the end of the season. Lewistown should also be solid this year, and Browning boasts a lot of young talent.
It will be interesting to see how the race will play out, as the league could be rampant with parity in 2005-06.
“After Butte Central, it's going to be a dogfight,” Barnhorst said.
Whatever the case may be, the Ponies are focused on making up for missed opportunities a year ago, and with a senior-laden ball club, don't be surprised if by season's end the Ponies are exactly right where they want to be.
The Ponies will open the 2005-06 season with an important two-game road trip against conference foes Livingston and Belgrade. It may be the first week of the season, but the Ponies are already playing in big games as they cannot afford to start the season 0-2 in the conference.
“It's a tough way to start the season - two straight conference road games,” Barnhorst said. “It would be big for us to get a couple of wins. These games count as much as any and I just hope the kids realize how important they are.”
The Ponies will have to deal with what should be a much improved Livingston team on Friday night.
Saturday the Ponies will head to Belgrade to face off against the rival Panthers, who are going to be very young this season after losing all five starters from last year's squad.
“Belgrade is always solid and they should be again this year,” Barnhorst said. “It's definitely going to be tough.”
Tonight's game in Livingston will get under way at 7. Saturday's game in Belgrade tips off at 5 p.m.