Havre Daily News
The 2004-05 season was one of transition for the Havre Blue Ponies girls basketball team. It had a new coach, a new system and some new players. The season was a stepping stone or a building block to the future.
For the Ponies, that future is now.
The Ponies went 8-10 last season under first-year head coach Jason Wirt, definitely not the season the team had envisioned at the start of the year.
But they played an extremely tough schedule and they worked hard every single night. As they battled through the ups and downs of a difficult season, the Ponies began to lay the groundwork for a revival this year.
The Ponies will be a more experienced team this year as they return key players Stephanie Flatau, Alexa Lipp, Keelie Solomon, Kelsey Evans and Lena Suek.
Flatau was awarded all-conference honors in 2005 after she averaged 13 points per game and a league-high 13 rebounds per game.
Lipp, Evans and Solomon also became very solid players by season's end and should contribute with some very solid play.
“This is their second (year) playing varsity basketball and they are going to be more experienced this year,” Wirt said. “Steph led the state in rebounding last year and averaged over four offensive rebounds a game. She is a solid player night in and night out.
“Alexa was probably our second most consistent player at the end of the year, and she can score in double figures,” he added “Keelie is also very good off the bench, and Kelsey Evans is a good backup point guard who can shoot the ball as good as anyone on the team.”
However, for the Ponies to be able to go seven or eight deep on the bench, they are going to have to rely heavily on some younger players to step up and play some big minutes. Players like Katie Mariani and Steph Stremcha are young talented players who just need some experience, and should develop into solid contributors for the Ponies this season.
Another thing to watch is how well they work in Wirt's system after having a year to get comfortable in it.
“They have been nothing but positive for me,” Wirt said. “We have changed a few things and made a few tweaks and they have taken it all in stride.”
One possible area of concern this season will be the Ponies' lack of size and lack of a true low post scorer to open things up for them consistently on the perimeter. The Ponies are going to have to depend on the play of their guards and their ability to get to the basket, as well as their ability to shoot the basketball, if they are going to be effective on the offensive end of the floor.
“We aren't really going to have anybody in the post,” Wirt said. “We will get chances to penetrate because things will open up a little more in the middle and we'll need to shoot the ball well. I think we can present some match-up problems for a lot of teams with our athletic ability. But the big thing is that we need to hit shots. Otherwise we could be in some trouble.”
One thing that should be a positive for the Ponies as they head into the bulk of their conference schedule later on is that they play a very difficult nonconference schedule, which will prepare them for the rigorous battles of conference play. The Ponies will meet up with solid teams like Malta, CMR, Great Falls High and Cut Bank.
The brutal schedule with be a good way for the Ponies to measure where they are and how much progress they have made as they prepare for conference play.
As far as the Central A is concerned, right now everyone is chasing Browning. Browning has a lot of height, with three girls over 6 feet tall, and should be a formidable foe later on in the season.
Beyond that, the league should be extremely wide open. Havre, Lewistown and Livingston all figure to have a fairly good chance to finish very high up in the league order. The competition should be very heated.
“Browning is the front-runner right now,” Wirt said. “But after that, it is wide open.”
The Ponies are a hard-working team that is going to play scrappy and should not be taken lightly.
“We are going to show up every night,” Wirt said. “We might not be the most talented team, but after a full season we will be better than we are right now.”
The Ponies will open their season with a difficult two-game road trip facing conference opponents. Although it may be the first weekend of the season, the games have the importance of a mid-season clash.
The Ponies will be in Livingston on Friday night. Livingston and Havre should both be two of the top teams in the Central A, so it is definitely a big game in the grand scheme of things.
“They are right there with us,” Wirt said. “They have good size and they have good guard play as well as a lot of experience.”
Saturday the Ponies will finish off the road trip in Belgrade. The Panthers are a young team that will be looking to get a big win at home to kick off the Central A season.
“They are an entirely different team from last year. They lost their top six kids from a year ago,” Wirt said. “It's tough when your first games are conference games, because you don't get a chance to experiment at all because the games are more important.”
Tonight's game between Havre High and Livingston will get under way at 5:30 p.m. Havre will face Belgrade at 3 p.m. on Saturday.