Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The Havre High tennis teams have played the best teams in Class AA, the best teams in Class B and the best teams in the Eastern A.
The Ponies will round out their difficult regular season schedule with a pair of duals against perhaps the best teams in the Western A.
Havre will head west on Saturday morning to Whitefish for dual matches with the host Bulldogs and the Polson Pirates.
"This is an exciting week for us because it gives us a chance for us to play two of the top schools from the Western A division with the state tournament looming," said head coach George Ferguson.
With the Central A divisional tournament next week, Ferguson wanted to solidify his divisional squad this week to take to Whitefish. Consequently, the team spent the week playing challenge matches for open spots.
"It has been a hectic week because we have been playing off for spots on the divisonal team," Ferguson said. "That has taken away from some practice time when we would normally be hitting balls. But now our top ten is set for both teams and the focus will be strictly on our opponents from here on out."
The Pony boys' line-up will feature Kyle Baltrusch in his usual spot at the No. 1 singles spot. Chase Castloo will play No. 2, while Scott Miller is at No. 3. Rounding out the singles players is freshman Todd Roe at No. 4, who edged out Ryan Kinholt in qualifying.
The Ponies' doubles team remain the same with Gary Wagner and Marc Mariani in the No. 1 spot, Billy Wagner and Coda Tchida at No. 2 and John Christian and Lucas Hamilton at No. 3.
The Pony girls' line-up remains pretty much the same. Amy McLain will be in her No. 1 singles spot, Megan Rice will play No. 2, while Karissa Olson will play No. 3 and Katie Mariani will play No. 4.
In the doubles, the team of Steph Flatau and Keelie Solomon will play in their customary No. 1 spot. Kari Gorder and Kristi Hollilngshead will remain No. 2, while the team of Alexa Lipp and Hailey McLain will play No. 3.
With his line-ups set for the remainder of the season, Ferguson hopes his team will start to raise their level of play with postseason looming. These two duals will be a good start.
Havre will open with Polson at 1:30 p.m. at the courts at Grouse Mountain Lodge.
In the boys dual, it will be a match of unbeatens as the Ponies and Pirates come in undefeated in duals. After pummeling opponents last weekend, Ferguson is looking forward to the matchup for his boys team.
"When we left the state tournament last year, I had a good sense that Polson would be a very good team this season," he said. "They are a perfect opponent for us, because every match will be a very competitive one."
The Pirates are led by singles players Brian Dubuque and Andy Dykstra, while the No. 1 doubles team of Brett Vandenberg and Mitch Grove and the No. 2 team of Derrick Roberts and Logan Klein are both undefeated on the season.
On the girls side, Amy McLain will have a tough match with Pirates' No. 1 single player Jen Orchard. Polson also has three very good doubles teams that should challenge the Ponies.
"Polson has a tough singles player in Jen Orchard and their No. 1 doubles team has only lost once this season," Ferguson said. "It should be good dual."
In the second dual, Havre will face Whitefish at 3:30 p.m.
The Bulldog boys aren't quite as strong as Polson, but they should still be solid.
"Whitefish is a little down this season, but they are still traditionally a strong tennis town," Ferguson said. "We can't overlook them."
Whitefish has a solid singles player in Isaac Opatz, who was a state tournament qualifier last year.
While the Pony boys should be victorious, the Pony girls will be facing one of the toughest teams they have seen all season.
Whitefish has won the last two state titles in decisive fashion, led by senior Dani Paulson, who is widely considered one of the best high school players in the state.
Amy McLain and Paulson staged an epic match in last year's state title match. Paulson outlasted McLain in a marathon, and the match will be the highlight of the dual. But the Bulldogs aren't a one-woman team.
"Everyone knows about Dani Paulson, but Whitefish is the two-time defending state champion and they have more to their team than just her," Ferguson said.
Playing the defending state champ is something that Ferguson's players are relishing.
"Both duals will be a big challenge for our girls team, but they are coming off of a very good week in Billings," Ferguson said. "I think they are up to the challenge."