By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Tonight the Havre High girls basketball team will take another shot at doing something they have not done in the new millennium - beat the Lewistown Golden Eagles.
As in years past, Lewistown comes into the Havre High gymnasium at 7:30 tonight as the No. 1-ranked team in Class A, and owns a long-standing winning streak over its rival on the Hi-Line.
While history is obviously not lost on HHS first-year head coach Jason Wirt, it is still just that, history. He said that tonight is another new chapter in the Havre/Lewistown saga. Obviously, he is hoping for a much different outcome.
"We have talked as a team about how this is just another opportunity for us to play a very good program and a good basketball team," Wirt said. "We just have to forget the past against Lewistown, and go out and take advantage of the opportunities we have against them this season."
That first chance at a little redemption against the Class A defending state champions will come tonight. The eagles are 6-1 this season with their only loss coming at the hands of Class A powerhouse Billings West.
And while it seems like it is business as usual in Lewistown these days, there are some glaring differences between this year's version of the Eagles and the one that easily captured the 2004 Class A state championship.
Lewistown graduated six seniors and all of its starters from a year ago. And while they have six seniors on their roster again this season, they are a much different team.
The Eagles do get 20 points per game from guards Sonya Rodgers and Alira Carpenter. But they are not the balanced, deep team they once were. Devin Nelson is the only other returning player who saw extensive varsity minutes last season. The Eagles have had to rely on new faces like 5-11 forward Kayla Horacek and Laura Anderson to surround all-stars Rodgers and Carpenter.
"Everything they run goes through Carpenter and Rodgers," Wirt said. "They are both very good players and great scorers. Rodgers is a legitimate college prospect and a tremendous athlete. We are definitely concerned with stopping those two.
"But I don't think their depth is as much of a factor this season," Wirt added. "They don't play a lot of kids and they rely heavily on those two for the bulk of their scoring."
So stopping the Eagles should be simple. But shutting Carpenter and Rodgers down is only half of the equation. The one glaring point that sounds out in the Havre/Lewistown rivalry that has led to the Eagles domination over the Ponies is pressure. Can Havre stand up to and overcome the Eagles' swarming defensive pressure?
"That is the big key," Wirt said. "We know that they are going to come after us the whole game. We know they are going to get in our face and force us to stand up to it.
"If we can handle all of the defensive pressure that they bring and and not let Rodgers and Carpenter go off on us, then we will be in a great position," Wirt added.
As if facing the Eagles isn't a daunting enough way to start off the weekend, on Saturday afternoon the Ponies will travel to one of the toughest gyms on the Hi-Line to face the Malta M-Ettes. Malta is off to a great start this season, compiling a 6-1 overall record. Their only loss came at the hands of Havre's opponent tonight, Lewistown.
The M-Ettes suffered one of their most difficult seasons in recent memory last year, but they returned everyone from the 2003-04 team and they are one of the most athletic and talented teams in all of Class B.
The M-Ettes have a trio of outstanding guards led by sophomore Kelly Pankratz. Senior Roshon Nordlund is also back this season, but freshman Laramie Schwenke may turn out to be the most talented of the three.
"Malta has a very athletic and quick team and they have good shooters," Wirt said. "They aren't real big, but their guards are very good, so we will have to be very solid defensively.
"I think the key will be holding their scorers down," he added. "They like to leak out early and try to get easy transition baskets. That means we need to make sure we take good shots on our end of the floor and then get back and stop their transition game."
Havre comes into the weekend at 4-4 overall. After tonight's game against the Eagles they will have reached the halfway mark of their season. Given the difficulty of the two-game stretch they are about to embark on, some people might think that the Ponies are facing a must-win situation. But Wirt looks at it from a much different perspective.
"There is still a lot of season left," he said. There are still six weeks until the divisional tournament, so right now the only thing that is critical is for us to make sure we keep getting better as a team.
"It seems like we took a step back against Butte Central," he added. "This weekend it is important that we improve and we start moving forward again."
Tonight's Central A showdown between Havre High and Lewistown will tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the HHS gymnasium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM. Saturday night's non-conference clash in Malta is scheduled to tip off at 4:15 p.m.