Havre Daily News Sports
While rain and even snowflakes continue fall over North Central Montana, the Havre High boys and girls golf teams are heading west to Whitefish for the 2005 Class A state tournament.
Both teams captured first-place honors at the Central A Divisional tournament in Butte last Saturday, and both are poised to bring hardware home this weekend-that is if the weather and the golf course cooperate.
This year's state tournament will be played at the demanding Whitefish Lake Golf Club, and the boys and girls tournaments will be held on completely separate courses for the first time ever. All 36 holes of the boys tournament will be played on the 6,307-yard par-72 North Course. The course is long and heavily guarded by towering pine trees. It should provide a stern test for even the most accomplished golfer, according to HHS head coach Karla Bolken.
"I think the North Course is more difficult because there is a lot more to know about the course and there are so many trees," Bolken said. "Club selection in the fairways will be crucial this weekend and driving the ball is always very important at that course."
The 2005 girls tournament will be conducted on the 5,361-yard par-72 South Course. The course is much shorter and is somewhat more wide open. But the course has many more hazards and extensive elevation changes throughout, making it a different, but equally difficult, challenge.
"I think there is a lot more trouble on the South Course," Bolken said. "Club selection will also be very important on that course."
This year's tournament will also be unique in that both Whitefish teams are clear cut favorites to win state championships. The girls tournament however, is a little less-cut-and dry, as several other teams will be in the trophy mix. Divisional champions include Polson, Anaconda and Miles City, as well as the Blue Ponies. Despite the fact that the host Bulldogs have finished second to Polson in its last two tournaments, Bolken still sees them as the favorite to capture a state championship.
"It is interesting that Polson has beaten Whitefish twice in one week," Bolken said. "Those two teams are very strong. Miles City is also very good this season.
"I still think because Whitefish is playing on their home course they will be tough to beat," she added.
While there are several teams that could contend for a trophy this weekend, Bolken said that her team is among them. Havre had its best team score of the season at the divisional tournament and if they can duplicate that feat this weekend, the Ponies should be in good shape come Friday evening.
"I think that if the girls go out and play that well again both days, then we should close to getting a trophy," Bolken said. "It all depends on how consistent they all are over two days. But winning a trophy is definitely a goal for this weekend."
Consistency hasn't been a problem for No. 1 golfer Ali Ward. The junior is coming off of a round of 83 at the Butte Country Club last Saturday, which was good enough to earn medalist honors. If Ward can raise her level of play and cut a couple of strokes off that 83, there could be more gold in her future this weekend.
"I think that if Ali shoots that low again this weekend she'll certainly be in the top five," Bolken said. "And she is capable of doing it. She is playing with so much confidence. Noting seems to bother her out there."
Ward will be joined by sophomores Stacy Sheppard and Haley McLain. The duo finished third and fourth, respectively at the divisional tournament. Freshman Tabitha Beck rounds out the HHS state tournament roster. Beck, who has continued to improve all season, finished in 10th place at the divisional tournament.
While Bolken thinks the Whitefish girls will be tough to beat this weekend, unseating the Bulldog boys on their home course will be even more difficult. The Bulldogs have been as close to perfect as a golf team can be the last two years. There is little reason to think that this weekend will be any different.
"It is almost unrealistic to think that anyone can beat Whitefish because it has been so long since anyone has," Bolken said. "They are just a really good golf team and they have some tremendous players."
Heading into the state tournament it seems like everyone else could be playing for second place. That contingent includes a pair of teams from the Western A divison in Polson and Ronan, as well as Eastern A champion Billings Central.
As for the Central A champion Blue Ponies, Bolken said that earning a trophy is certainly within reach, but the Ponies will have to raise their level of play in order to get there.
"I think that as a team we'll have to play a little better than we did last weekend," Bolken said. "Whitefish isn't the only good team in this tournament and teams are going to have to play very well in order to finish in the top three."
That doesn't mean the Ponies aren't capable of doing exactly that. Junior Matt Hedstrom is coming off of a second-place finish at the divisional tournament and appears to be playing his most consistent golf of the season. Branden Job and Anthony Wirtzberger both had top-five finishes at the divisional tournament as well, and have been Havre's leading scorers this season. Marshall Cartwright, who saw limited action on varsity prior to the divisional tournament, also played well, while senior Sean Strand has been Havre's top scorer twice this season.
"I think we are very capable of having at least two of our boys finish in the top 10," Bolken said. "The interesting thing is that it is impossible to predict who that might be because they have all done it at some point this season.
"Hopefully, they all go out and play well both days," she added. "If they are all consistent, then I think we have a really good chance at a trophy."
The forecast in Whitefish over the next three days calls for high's in the 50s and little chance of precipitation. The 2005 Class A state tournament is scheduled to get underway at 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, but frost could delay the starting time. Havre High is in Whitefish today for a practice round at 2 p.m. at the Whitefish Lake Golf Club.