Havre Daily News Sports Editor
It took them 2 matches before they started playing the type of volleyball that fans have been used to seeing from them. But when it mattered most, the Havre High volleyball team rose to the occasion and found a way to capture the Central A divisional championship that everybody expected them to win.
Havre's play was shaky in its quarterfinal win over Browning, and the Ponies were pushed to the limit in the semifinals against Belgrade. Then HHS got off to a horrific start in Saturday night's championship match of the 2005 Central A divisional tournament at the HHS gymnasium.
Down two games to none, Havre finally came to life against the Eagles and ended up running away with the final three games of the championship match on its way to its first divisional title in four seasons.
“We knew we could come back,” said HHS senior Kelsey Evans. “We love those type of situations, and we are just that type of team. There was no way we were going to lose this match.
“Everybody pulled together,” she added. “And we turned the match around as a team.”
The win over nemesis Lewistown wasn't the first time in the tournament Havre had to play from behind. Earlier in the day, the Ponies found themselves down 2-1 to Belgrade and staring a devastating loss squarely in the face. But Havre rallied to beat the Panthers, just as they would do later in the night against the Eagles.
“That is what I am most proud of this weekend,” HHS head coach Bill Huebsch said. “This team has so much mental toughness and we needed it this weekend.
“We didn't play our best at times,” he added. “But the kids stayed focused and they really just kept their heads. In the end, our experience and the leadership that we have on this team really paid off.”
Havre came back to knock off the Panthers by scores of 25-19, 19-25, 17-25, 25-23 and 15-11. The win assured them of a state tournament berth.
The Ponies got a fine all-around effort from junior Lena Suek with 12 kills and 16 digs. Alexa Lipp also led the HHS charge with 33 assists and 11 digs.
“I thought Alexa Lipp was all-world this weekend,” Huebsch said. “She seemingly never made a mistake.
“In the match against Lewistown, she really led us on the floor,” he added. “She had an amazing tournament.”
The Ponies needed Lipp's leadership after they fell behind 2-0 to the Eagles. Despite knowing that they could lose to the Eagles and win an “if-necessary” match to still claim the Central A crown, Huebsch said he doesn't think that knowledge played a factor in Havre's shaky start.
“I think the girls were nervous all the way through, and it certainly played a part in the match against Lewistown,” Huebsch said. “Even though we have accomplished a lot this year, we haven't been in that position before.
“But again, I just give all the credit to the kids,” he added. “They really pulled it together, and they played at a very high level in the final three games. It was amazing to watch.”
After dropping the opening two games to the Eagles by scores of 25-23 and 25-20, Havre turned its fortunes around with strong hitting, perfect serving and great defense. To put it simply, the Ponies played near-perfect volleyball in the final three games of the tournament as they downed the Eagles by scores of 25-16, 25-18 and 15-9.
Suek and Carmen Neuens got the Pony comeback rolling in the third game, each crushing powerful kills. Lipp was dominant passing the ball and Signe Hillson started shutting down the Lewistown block.
The back row of Evans, Karissa Olson, Keelie Solomon and Cammie West also played flawlessly, as did Sjanetee D'Hooge and Liz Handy in the front. Both came up with timely kills in the fourth game.
The usually steady Eagles had no answer, and could not stop the Ponies from taking the divisional championship trophy away from Lewistown for the first time in four seasons.
“This championship means so much to us because we have all worked so hard for so long to get to this point,” Evans said. “Hopefully, the way we played tonight will carry over to the state tournament.”
Suek and Neuens led Havre statistically in the final match, but every player on the team contributed to the win in her own way. Suek pounded out 16 kills and had a match-high 20 digs, while Neuens added 16 kills.
“Carmen Neuens was huge for us in the match against Lewistown,” Huebsch said. “She hit the ball incredibly hard, as did everyone who got a chance at free balls.
“I think the team really fed off how our hitters started hitting the ball, and we just started to gain confidence as the match went on.”
Lipp was brilliant once again. She had an astounding 46 assists and four service aces.
“I think every single player on the team contributed to this win and this championship,” Huebsch said. “It was a complete team effort, and that is something that makes this win very special.”
Havre will now prepare for the opening round of the 2005 Class A state tournament in Bozeman. The Ponies will open with the Bigfork Valkyries at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
Havre def. Browning
23-25, 25-23, 25-17.
Havre - Kills 40 (Lena Suek 12, Signe Hillson 8); Assists 36 (Alexa Lipp 33); Aces 6 (Keelie Solomon 2, Liz Handy 3); Digs 61 (Suek 16, Lipp 11); Blocks 3 (Sjanette D'Hooge 2).
Browning - Kills 28 (Bobbi Woodworth 10, Jenna Skunk Cap 8); Assists 21 (Noel Higgins 11); Aces 11 (Raquel Mad Man 4, Phillis Kipp 3); Digs 63 (Skunk Cap 14, Rikki Ollinger 13); Blocks 8 1/2 (Woodworth 5 1/2).
Havre def. Belgrade
25-15, 19-25, 17-25, 25-23, 15-11
Havre - Kills (Carmen Nevens 13, Lena Suek 12); Blocks 10 (Signe Hillson 4, Sjanette D'Hooge 3); Assists 48 (Alexa Lipp 44); Digs 68 (Lipp 14, Karissa Olson 12); Aces 5 (Keelie Solomon 2, Suek 2)
Belgrade - Kills 50 (Jessica Hespen 19, Jillian Hoblitt 11); Blocks 6 (Jessica Kallestad 2, Hespen 2); Assists 47 (Neoa Knuchel 45); Digs 93 9Kallestad 20, Megan Knuchel 18); Aces 6 (Hoblitt 2, Kallestad 2)
Havre def. Lewistown
23-25, 20-25, 25-16, 25-18, 15-9
Havre - Kills 56 (Lena Suek 16, Carmen Nevens 16); Blocks 4 (Suek 1.5, Signe Hillson 1.5); Assists 49 (Alexa Lipp 48); Digs 92 (Suek 20); Aces 12 (Keelie Solomon 4, Lipp 4).
Lewistown - Kills 41 (Heidi Rettig 10); Blocks 8 (3 tied with 2); Assists 35 (Ashley Boehger 33); Digs 74 (Rettig 17); Aces 4 (4 tied with 1).