Havre Daily News Sports
High school kids might not officially have to return to school until next week, but that doesn't mean the 2005 fall sports season isn't already in full swing.
For the Havre High golf team, that swing gets under way this afternoon at the Meadowlark Country Club in Great Falls.
The Blue Pony boys and girls golf teams will be in action today and Tuesday as one of only three Class A schools that are invited to the prestigious Great Falls Invitational. The two-day, 36-hole tournament annually kicks off the Montana high school golf season and it features some of the best Class AA competition of the season, as well as teams from Havre, Lewistown and perennial Class A powerhouse Whitefish.
Second year HHS head coach Karla Bolken said the Great Falls invite is a good, yet challenging start for the Havre High season.
"This is a very good tournament because almost all of the Class AA schools will be there," Bolken said. "Also, both courses are very tough. But we have some kids who have been to this tournament before and they have seen the courses. So I expect both our teams to do a lot better this year."
Improving on last year will be the theme for Bolken and both her HHS squads. The Havre High boys team returns four varsity golfers from last year. Its only loss was three-year letter winner Ben Erickson. While Havre might have experience coming back, Bolken said that her team still needs a lot of work.
"We are a much more experienced team than we were a year ago," Bolken said of the HHS boys. "But right now most of those kids are not on the top of their game. They still have a lot of improving to do."
One thing that might spur that improvement quickly is the depth of the HHS boys roster. There are currently 26 boys out for golf this season and several of those players will push for varsity time. There are several talented freshmen like Jeremy Jensen and Miles Mazurkiewicz, who should make qualifying rounds much more difficult on some of the more experienced Havre High upperclassmen. Bolken sees that kind of competition as a positive for her team.
"I think that practice will always be very competitive and that will make all of our players better," she said. "Last year we had qualifying rounds every week and the same five kids always qualified. I don't think you're going to see that this season. We're going to have some different kids playing every week. I think that will force everybody to step up their game and improve."
As for this week, the HHS golf team will have four players who qualified for the 2004 Class A state tournament. The roster is led by a trio of juniors in Matt Hedstrom, Brandon Job and Anthony Wirtzberger. All three players were steady competitors for Bolken last season, as was senior Sean Strand. That foursome will be counted on to improve Havre's standing in the Central A division this season, as they surrendered the Central A title last year for the first time in six years. Joining the four returning varsity players this week will be junior Chris Owen, who just edged out Jensen and Marshall Cartwright for the final varsity spot.
Although Bolken said that her team might not be peaking yet, she still expects the HHS boys to be a much-improved team this season. She is hoping that the depth of the team and the schedule that Havre High plays will lead her team back into the Central A title hunt, as well as the Class A state championship picture.
"I really expect us to be a much better team this season," she said. "Last year we just barely squeaked into the state tournament and I don't think that will happen again this year.
"We have a lot more experience than we had last year because most of these kids have played our schedule before," Bolken added. "And I think that if we improve every week and the boys work hard to get better, our scores will be a lot more consistent than they were last year."
While steady improvement might be the focal point for the HHS boys team, building on success will be the goal for the defending Central A champion Havre High girls team. The HHS girls come into 2005 without graduated standout Brittany Job, who is playing golf at MSU-Billings. However, they do return junior sensation Ali Ward, who is a two-year letter-winner and is coming off a remarkable third-place finish at the 2004 Class A state tournament.
Bolken expects that Ward will build on that momentum and have another solid season. She is also expecting big things from sophomore Stacy Sheppard, who played a full varsity season as a freshman and is already showing vast improvement early in 2005.
"Ali and Stacy are already both golfing really well," Bolken said. "I think that they will both have very good seasons and they will continue to get better each week."
Another key contributor should be sophomore Hailey McLain, who is also a returning letter-winner. The trio gives Bolken a solid nucleus on which to build her girls team around.
Still, Havre High's problem is numbers as once again the Ponies will have just five girls out for golf this season. One of those five has Bolken excited. Freshman Tabitha Beck has been playing very well in practice rounds this season and Bolken said that the potential for her to be a solid contributor this season is definitely there.
"Tabitha Beck has been shooting some very good scores," she said. "She is a player who, when she gets some experience in tournaments and in practice, has the potential to be very good for us."
Rounding out the HHS girls squad in Great Falls today is sophomore Avery Hanson.
If the HHS girls are to improve upon their surprising success from a year ago, the likes of Beck and McLain will have to contribute each week. It won't be an easy thing to do, considering the competition and the courses that the HHS girls face each week. Still, Bolken said that the Havre High girls long-term season goals will be success in one form or another.
"I am hoping that our younger players can just get a lot of experience early in the season so that they are comfortable playing each week and their scores are coming down the closer we get to divisionals," she said. "If everybody improves and depending on what the other schools in our division have this year, I think that this team will be very capable of improving on what they did last year."
The two-day Great Falls Invitational tees off with a shotgun start at 2 p.m. today at the Meadowlark Country Club. Tuesday the tournament shifts to Eagle Falls Municipal Golf Course with tee times beginning at 8 a.m. The Blue Ponies will also be in action on Friday when they travel to Lewistown.