Havre Daily News Sports
The Havre High boys and girls golf teams are one week away from the Class A state tournament. Before the Blue Ponies can start dreaming of state glory, they will have to navigate the treacherous Butte Country Club at the Central A D ivisional golf tournament on Saturday in Butte.
The HHS boys team will have a lot to prove on Saturday as its longtime reign as Central A champions came to an end last season. This year, however, the Ponies have been more than solid and appear poised to return to the top of the conference, according to HHS head coach Carla Bolken.
"I never like to overlook anybody or sound too overconfident," Bolken said. "But our boys team has been playing their best golf of the year when they need to. If that continues in Butte they should be very tough to beat."
Last season, the Ponies finished third at the Central A meet behind Belgrade and Livingston and barely qualified for the Class A state tournament. This season has been a different story for the Ponies as they have been a much more consistent golf team.
The foursome of Brandon Job, Anthony Wirtzberger, Matt Hedstrom and Sean Strand have all had top 10 finishes this year and each player has led the Ponies in scoring at one time or another. Havre will also have junior Marshall Cartwright as its fifth player on Saturday.
While Wirtzberger and Job have been the Ponies most consistent players, overall team consistency has been the key to Havre's success this season.
The Ponies are coming off a solid second-place finish at the Whitefish Invitational on Monday. In that tournament, Strand posted the Ponies' best score of the day. That kind of consistency is what has Bolken feeling so confident heading into Saturday's tournament.
"That has been the story of our boys team all year," Bolken said. "Any of our boys can step up and lead this team and they are all capable of shooting low scores.
"Brandon and Anthony have been our most consistent players throughout the season," she added. "But it seems like when one of them doesn't have a good day, someone always steps up and plays well."
Aside from Havre, the boys tournament will feature teams from Livingston, Belgrade, Anaconda, Dillon, Browning, Lewistown as well as host Butte Central. Bolken sees Belgrade and Livingston as Havre's top competition, just like last season.
"We have seen most of the teams at some point this season," Bolken said. "I think that Belgrade and Livingston areboth capable of having a good tournament."
While the Havre High boys are trying to recapture the Central A crown, the HHS girls will by trying to hold on to theirs.
Last season, the Pony girls stunned the conference by winning the Central A title. Havre did lose a key member of that championship team in Brittany Job, who now plays golf for Montana State University-Billings. But the Ponies have been getting more and more consistent as the season has gone on. Bolken said that her girls team is right where it needs to be heading into the divisional tournament.
"I think that our girls team has shown a lot of improvement over the last couple of weeks," Bolken said. "Our scores are very consistent right now. But in order for us to win this tournament, we will have to have a couple of our girls bring their scores down a few strokes."
That won't be the case for junior Ali Ward, who has been the Blue Ponies' top golfer all season long. She is the favorite to capture medalist honors on Saturday in Butte.
After Ward, however, the Ponies will need solid contributions from all three of their other players.
Sophomores Stacey Sheppard and Haley McLain have both been consistent performers this season and both will probably need to be in the high 90s for the Ponies to keep the Central A title.
The wildcard of the group could be freshman Tabitha Beck, who has been a huge surprise for Bolken this season. Beck's scores have improved every week. If she can turn in a good round this weekend, it will even better the Ponies chances.
"I think all of our girls are very capable of having very good rounds," Bolken said. "It will just come down to focus and concentration. But if they all play their game, we will have a good chance to win."
The girls tournament won't have as many competitors as the boys. Besides the Blue Ponies, the tournament will feature teams from Browning, Lewistown, Livingston, Dillon and Anaconda.
"Livingston has a very good team this year," Bolken said. "They are probably the strongest team in the tournament. Other than that, we have beaten just about everybody else so I like our chances."
Of course, the Butte Country Club might have a little something to say about who plays well on Saturday, as will the weather. The course is a par 70 that measure 6,345 yards long, which is short by today's standards.
However, the course has some very tricky holes and is heavily guarded by trees. Smart golf will be at a premium on Saturday, according to Bolken.
"I know it is a short course, but it is a very challenging course," Bolken said. "It will be a tough test for everybody. It is a course that will force players to think about their shots, especially off of the tee."
The weather may also play a factor on Saturday. The forecast in Butte is calling for temperatures in the low 60's with a possibility of showers late in the round.
The Central A Divisional golf tournament will get under way with a shotgun start at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning in Butte. The Ponies will play a practice round at the Butte Country Club today at 2 p.m.