Havre Daily News Sports Editor
LEWISTOWN - Was there any doubt? Seriously?
The five-time defending state champion Havre High boys tennis team made it six in a row in typical anti-climactic fashion, crushing opponents and dominating the courts of the Fergus County High School.
Havre racked up 40 team points, 20 more than second place Big Fork, and basically sewed up the team title during the semifinals.
"This was a very satisfying and fitting end to the season for our boys team," said head coach George Ferguson. "All year we have played the best competition and these kids have always come out on top. The state tournament was no different because there was great competition all around us and our entire team scored points for us. The kids saved their best tennis for last."
While the Pony boys have made collecting state championship trophies a spring ritual, the Pony girls were so close to equaling their counterparts' accomplishment
They had their best overall showing in school history, finishing second as Dillon took home the team title with 22 points, while the Ponies finished just behind with 20.
"This was the most successful state tournament a HHS girls team has ever had and one of the best overall seasons in recent memory," Ferguson said. "We were very close to winning the state championship and I know the kids wanted it really badly. "Everyone on our team played their hearts out this weekend and gave this program everything they had. We just came up a little short."
There was no coming up short for the Pony boys. They just simply had too much depth, too much talent, too much state tourney experience to have any troubles winning another title.
Senior Kyle Baltrusch led the way for Havre, making Class A state tennis history by becoming the first boy to ever win four state singles titles. Cut Bank's Keithan Gregg accomplished the feat in Class B-C a year ago.
Baltrusch waxed Hardin's Peter Seykora 6-2, 6-2 in the championship match, using a punishing forehand to blast winners past an overmatched Seykora.
"I thought I played pretty well," Baltrusch said. "My forehand was really on and I tried to hit it whenever I could. I probably hit 10 backhands in the match."
Baltrusch fought through windy conditions and an inconsistent serve to win two tough matches, and opened Friday with a 6-3, 6-4 win over David Stephens of Stevensville in the semifinals.
"Kyle really rose to the occasion this weekend," Ferguson said "He basically played four straight tough opponents and all of it with a huge amount of pressure on him to achieve this remarkable feat of winning four singles titles in a row."
But in the moments following his tremendous accomplishment, Baltrusch had nothing more than a quick smile and a handshake for Seykora. No celebration, not even a fist pump.
"I was dead tired," Baltrusch said. "I played some tough matches, but to be honest you probably saw the emotion after the first three titles."
While Baltrusch downplays it all, Ferguson won't.
"I don't think people outside of tennis really realize just how incredible Kyle's accomplishment is," Ferguson said. "Kyle's name will be forever etched in the history of Montana High School tennis as one of the most successful tennis players ever.
I am just so proud of him and as a coach I feel honored to have been a part of his historic career. He is a tremendously gifted player and a great person and it couldn't have happened to a better kid."
Baltrusch wasn't the only one repeating as a champ. Havre's No. 1 doubles team of Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner completed an undefeated season with a second straight doubles title, pasting Laine Averill and Pete Collins 6-1, 6-1 in the finals.
"Marc and Gary played nearly flawless tennis all season," Ferguson said. "They were as focused this weekend as I have ever seen them. There was just no way they were going to lose. They really mowed through the competition."
Said Mariani: "The competition was much better than last year. But it seemed like the tougher the competition, the better we played. We just raised our level of play every match."
Mariani and Wagner are the first doubles team in school history to win two straight state titles, and weren't really challenged in the tourney, never losing more than two games in a match. It was a perfect culmination for a solid high school run.
"Because of what they have achieved over the last four years they have to go down as one of the best doubles teams in Montana high school history," Ferguson said.
Said Wagner: "It's been great playing with Marc for the last four years. We've played so many matches together that we know exactly where the other is on the court and what each of us can do."
Still, the team title was a team effort as every Pony player won a match to contribute to the overall team point title.
In the singles, Chase Castloo won his opening match, before losing a heartbreaking 7-6 (7-3),7-6 (7-1) match to Seykora in the quarterfinals. He was eliminated a match later by Whitefish's Izaak Opatz in a three-set marathon. Havre's No. 4 Scott Miller lost both of his match, but gave Polson's Andy Dykstra a scare in the first round.
"Chase won a big first round match which got us off to a really good start," Ferguson said. "He also played well in two tough losses. If Chase works on his game a little bit more this summer, he will be one of the favorites to win the singles title in Class A next season."
In the doubles, the No. 2 team of Coda Tchida and Billy Wagner finished with a 2-2 record, advancing to the semifinals before losing back-to-back matches.
"Coda and Billy had a great weekend that didn't exactly end they way they wanted it too," Ferguson said. "They played great tennis the first day to reach the semifinals, but on the second they lost a pair of close matches to two very good Bigfork teams."
Havre's other doubles team of Lucas Hamilton and John Christian rallied after losing their first match to win a consolation match, before being eliminated
"Lucas and John also had a good state tournament," Ferguson said. "Like Coda, Lucas is another senior, who had a great HHS career and an especially great senior season."
The Ponies' five seniors have been a part of four state titles and the six years of domination in Class A.
"These kids put a lot of pressure on themselves to win every time they step on the court and they came through like champions," Ferguson said. "To finish the year undefeated in duals and to set the divisional record for points scored and win another state championship, it's just a very special season.
"All the credit has to go to all of the guys who played on this team this year."
While the boys tourney had little if any drama, the girls tournament went down to the wire with Havre having its opportunities to win.
Basically, the Ponies came up a couple wins short. "I am not at all disappointed because this girls team has done some amazing things the last two years," Ferguson said. "Two divisional championships and two state trophies is a heck of a run. Hopefully, the kids will be able to look back and just what they have accomplished. Because this group has really put HHS into the mix of great Class A girls programs."
Senior Amy McLain's bid for a state singles title came up just short as she fell to defending champion Danni Paulson of Whitefish 6-2, 6-1 in the championship McLain defeated Dillon's Eve Xanthopolous 7-6 (6-3), 6-3 in the semifinals to advance to the title match.
"It is really hard to overstate just what Amy has accomplished over her career at HHS and especially the last two seasons," Ferguson said. "She was so tough in her match against Eve. She played amazing tennis this whole weekend and just ran into a great player in Danni Paulson in the championship match."
McLain played Paulson down to the wire a year ago in the semifinals and wound up finishing third. This year's runner-up trophy caps a lengthy list of her tennis accomplishments.
"Amy can hold her head high because she is no doubt one of the finest tennis players in Havre High history," Ferguson said. "She turned herself into a dominant tennis player and will be sorely missed. Her contributions to our program will have lasting effects on Havre High tennis for years to come."
Havre's other two singles players Megan Rice and Katie Mariani had solid weekends, each winning matches before being eliminated. Rice won a tough three-set match in the first round, before falling to Billings Central's Shannon Hatzell in three sets in the quarterfinals.
"Megan got us a big win in the first round and nearly knocked off one of the favorites in the quarterfinals," Ferguson said. "She played her best tennis of her career the last two weeks and she is a very special player who our program will miss a lot."
Mariani lost to Xanthopolous in the first round, but rebounded with a win in the consolation round before being eliminated by Polson's Jen Orchard.
"Katie also put a big exclamation point on what was a tremendous freshman season,"Ferguson said. "She beat a girl in this tournament that few people expected her to. Katie made huge strides every week and she has emerged as a force in Class A singles for the next three years."
In the doubles, Havre's No. 1 team of Steph Flatau and Keelie Solomon couldn't replicate last year's fourth-place finish, losing in the match to advance to the consolation finals. Flatau and Solomon were upset in the quarterfinals by Jenna Nield and Theresa Bennet of Dillon in the quarterfinals.
"Steph and Keelie had a very difficult weekend by their standards," Ferguson said. "They had goals that they wanted to reach and came up short. It was just one of those weekends where it seemed like nothing went right for them on the court.
"But they are a great doubles team and they have been a huge part of our team success this past two years. They have their senior year ahead of them and because of how competitive they both are, I know they will work hard this summer and come back next year better than they have ever been."
There will be parade of champions for the boys on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., starting at the Holiday Village Mall heading to the high school. It will be followed by the tennis awards banquet in the HHS cafeteria.
BOYS TEAM SCORES
Havre 40, Big Fork 20, Hardin 14, Polson 14, Corvallis 13, Stevensville 8, Glendive 5, Livingston 5, Whitefish 2, Lewistown 2, Hamilton 1.
Championship - Baltrusch, HAV def. Seykora, HAR 6-2, 6-2.
Third place - Fehr, Corvallis, def. Stephens, STE 6-4, 6-1.
Semifinals - Seykora, HAR def. Fehr, Corvallis, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; Baltrusch, HAV def. Stephens, STE 6-3, 6-4.
Quarterfinals - Seykora, HAR def. Castloo, HAV 7-8(7-3;7-6(7-1); Fehr, COR def. Wummel, LIV 6-0, 6-1; Stephens, STE def. Dykstra, POL 2-6, 6-2, 6-2; Baltrusch, HAV def. Orcutt, GLE 6-3, 6-2.
Consolation semifinals - Stephens, STE def. Wummell, LIV 6-2; 6-4; Fehr, Corvallis, def. Dykstra, POL 6-2, 6-4.
Championship - Mariani-Wagner, HAV def. Averill-Collins, BF 6-1, 6-1.
Third place - Klein-Vanderberg, POL def. Miles-Wolstein, BF 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
Semifinals - Averill-Collins, BF def. Tchida-Wagner, HAV 7-6 (6-4), 6-3; Mariani-Wagner, HAV def. Klein Vandenberg, POL 6-0, 6-2.
Quarterfinals - Tchida-Wagner, HAV def. Burbach-Tsomaya 4-6, 6-2, 6-1; Averill-Collins, BF def. Gold-Fehr, COR 6-2, 6-2; Mariani-Wagner, HAV def. Miles-Wolstein, Big 6-0, 6-2; Klein-Vandenberg, POL def. McCormick-Renstrom 6-0, 6-0.
Consolation semifinals - Klein-Vanderberg, POL def. Gruener-Gruener, LEW, 7-5, 7-5; Miles-Wolstein, BF def. Tchida-Wagner, HAV 3-6, 6-1, 7-5.
GIRLS TEAM SCORES
Dillon 22, Havre 20, Whitefish 17, Lewistown 16, Billings Central 10, Big Fork 10, Livingston 8, Columbia Falls 2, Hardin 2, Stevensville 2.
Championship - Paulson, WHI def. McLain, HAV 6-2, 6-1.
Third place - Xanthopoulos, DIL def. Hatzell, Billings Central, 6-1, 6-1.
Semifinals - Paulson, WHI def. Hatzell, Billings Central, 6-1, 6-2; McLain, HAV def. Xanthopoulos, DIL 7-6 (6-3), 6-3.
Quarterfinals - Hatzell def. Rice 4-6, 6-3, 6-1; Paulson def. Barnes 6-1, 6-1; McLain def. Orchard 6-0, 6-3; Xanthopoulos def. Hodges 6-3, 6-1.
Consolation semfinals- Xanthopoulos, DIL def. Barnes, Hamilton, 6-1, 6-3; Hatzell, Billings Central, def. Orchard, POL 1-6, 6-0, 6-3.
Championship - Nelson-Carpenter, LEW, def. Bennett-Nield, DIL 6-0, 7-6 (7-4).
Third place - Lock-Brunette, BF def. Foote-Kestling, LIV 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Semifinals - Bennett-Nield, DIL def. Foote-Kestling, LIV 6-2, 6-2; Nelson-Carpenter, LEW, def. Lock-Brunette, BF 6-4, 6-4.
Quarterfinals - Foote-Kestling def. Elliot-Steadman 6-3, 6-1; Bennett-Nield def. Flatau-Solomon 6-3, 6-0; Lock-Brunette, BF def. Potter-Laughlin 6-3, 6-0.
Consolation semifinals - Lock-Brunette, BF def. Flatau-Solomon, HAV 7-5, 6-4; Foote-Kestling, LIV def. Marcile-Marcile, CF 6-1, 2-6, 6-1.