Havre Daily News Sports
It isn't that the Havre High volleyball team hasn't played a meaningful match in a while. However, over the last two weeks, the Ponies have played just two matches, and neither Browning nor Class B Fort Benton, could stand up to the challenge of facing one of the best team's in Class A.
The Ponies might just get that test they have been looking for when they travel to Class B and District 2B powerhouse Cut Bank tonight at 7.
The Ponies will also return home for the first time in more than a month, when they host Browning for homecoming on Saturday.
But first things first. Havre will undoubtedly have a huge battle on its hands tonight when it faces the Wolves. Given the last two weeks, HHS veteran head coach Bill Huebsch wouldn't have it any other way.
"We need this match and we need to be pushed," Huebsch said. "This is the halfway point of the season and we need to be tested. We need to start playing close games and long matches, because we haven't had that in a while. We really need to be tested."
Of course, as the old saying goes, "be careful what you wish for." Huebsch might heed those words.
Cut Bank is one of two Class B schools on the Blue Pony schedule that are serious threats to win a state championship this season.
The Wolves took the Ponies to the brink of defeat last season in Havre. Cut Bank returns virtually the same team, led by Class B all-state hitter Marissa Stanchfield.
Stanchfield was a difficult matchup for the Ponies a year ago and figures to play a huge role in the outcome of tonight's match. Cut Bank also has the fortune of having star athlete Amber Aikens on its team. Stanchfield and Aikens are the Wolves' two leading scorers this season.
"I expect that this match will be very good and very difficult for a number of reasons," Huebsch said. "First off, Cut Bank is a very good team and they are well-coached.
"But they are also very athletic and very experienced. They will be a very tough opponent, especially on the road."
The Ponies aren't exactly pushovers themselves. Havre (9-2, 4-0) is a much more solid and experienced team than the one that faced the Wolves last season.
This year, the Ponies are very balanced, getting production from all over the floor. Junior Lena Suek leads the Central A conference in kills and digs this season. Liz Handy is one of the top servers in the conference and Alexa Lipp is leading the league in assists.
Keelie Solomon, Carmen Neuens, Kelsey Evans and Signe Hillson have also been playing strong night in and night out.
Still, in order to ensure a victory, Huebsch believes a number of things will have to go Havre's way.
Fortunately, they are basic volleyball principals and they are things his team has been executing well all season.
"We have to control Cut Bank's offense with our serve-receive game," Huebsch said. "We have to disrupt their offense as much as we can and not let their good hitters get going.
"We also have to go out and execute our offense," he added. "We have to take full advantage of down balls and free balls and finish points off."
When the Ponies return from Cut Bank, they won't have to wait long to get back out on the floor. For the first time since the end of August, Havre will get to play in the friendly confines of the HHS gymnasium on Saturday at 5 p.m. against Browning.
Havre dispatched Browning two weeks ago on the Indians' home floor. Even though the match was not one of the Ponies' best this season, Huebsch said that his team is looking very forward to playing the Indians again.
"It has been a month-long road trip," Huebsch said. "The kids are very excited about playing at home and showcasing to our fans what we have been doing the last month. It is also homecoming, so there is a lot of motivation for the girls to go out and play well.
Homecoming isn't the only reason the Ponies are fired up about a rematch with Browning.
"We didn't play poorly in Browning, but we started off really slowly," Huebsch said. "After that match, the girls weren't satisfied with how they played. They are very motivated to play much better against Browning this time around."
Tonight's match between Havre and Cut Bank is scheduled for 7 at the Cut Bank High School gym. Saturday's homecoming match against Browning is scheduled to get under way at 5 p.m. at the HHS gymnasium.