Havre Daily News
Early on in the 2006 season the Havre High tennis team has been nothing short of unbeatable.
In fact, you could probably count the number of matches the Ponies have lost so far this season on one hand. That's how dominant both the HHS girls and HHS boys have been.
That could all change on Saturday at the Havre Invitational because the Ponies are on a crash course to meet head on with the Whitefish Bulldogs, who will be intent on coming away with both team titles.
Havre is coming off dominating performances at both the Cut Bank Invitational and the Conrad Invitational, where the team went undefeated in a dual format, knocking off Cut Bank, Conrad and Lewistown on multiple occasions.
Now Havre will test itself in a tournament-style format against some familiar foes. Conrad, Cut Bank and Lewistown will all be attending the tournament along with Chester/J-I girls and, of course, Whitefish.
Whitefish enters the tournament as one of the top teams in Class A in both boys and girls tennis and will certainly add to an already competitive Havre High invite.
“We're really excited to have Whitefish in our tournament this year,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “Not only is it good for our kids to see another really good Class A team this early in the season, but it just ups the difficulty of our tournament and makes all of the draws a lot tougher.”
Leading the way for Whitefish on the girls side is two-time defending Class A state singles champion Danni Paulson. Paulson, a senior, has been so dominant that she has yet to lose a match in the state of Montana in two years of high school tennis.
Paulson is no stranger to the Havre High girls program either. Over the past two years, she has met former HHS standout Amy McLain three times, including twice at the state tournament. She defeated McLain in an epic three-setter at the 2004 Class A state tournament in Billings in the semifinals. Paulson also defeated McLain in the state championship match last year in Lewistown. On Havre High's current roster, senior Karissa Olson has also faced Paulson, losing to the state champion in the opening round of the 2004 state tournament.
“Danni is one of those players that may come around once every 20 years or longer,” Ferguson said. “She is an amazing player and she is very fun to watch play the game.”
Paulson has had a firm grip on the Class A singles competition from the day she showed up and from the looks of things she will not be knocked from her lofty pedestal anytime soon. A third straight state championship in singles could propel Whitefish back to the top of Class A girls tennis this year. Whitefish captured the 2004 Class A title.
Among those who will be trying to be the first to blemish on Paulson's spotless record will be Havre's Katie Mariani, the Ponies girl's No. 1 singles player. Mariani is also unbeaten on the season and could be on a collision course to meet up with Paulson in what would be an enticing battle of unbeaten players.
The Ponies' top doubles team will be Keelie Solomon and Steph Flatau, who are one of the top combos in the state and have also yet to lose a match this season.
Other players who will contribute for Havre this weekend are Olson, Alexa Lipp, Hope Hedges, Kristi Hollingshead, Kari Gorder, Haley McLain, Jocelyn Chagnon and Christen Kittelson. “Our girls have played really well so far this season,” Ferguson said. “But this weekend they are going to have to take it up another level because of the format and because of who will be here.
“The girls tournament should be very competitive in both doubles and singles,” he added. “And I think our kids have a chance to do very well.”
On the boys side the Ponies are led by their top doubles team of Chase Castloo and John Christian, as well as their top singles players Billy Wagner and Scott Miller. Havre is also getting good things out of singles players Todd Roe and Shane Kemmer.
Castloo and Christian are unbeaten on the season in doubles action as is Roe in singles competition, while Wagner has suffered only one blemish on an otherwise impressive record.
Other players that should contribute for Havre are David Zentmire, Ryan Kinholt, Mason Sheppard and Jordan Croft.
The boys tournament will also be competitive considering Whitefish is bringing a strong singles contingent to the meet this weekend. But the doubles draw should be the one to watch on the boys side.
Lewistown's top team of Stephen Gruener and Matt Gruener as well as Cut Bank's No. 1 team and Whitefish's No. 1 squad should provide plenty of challenges for Castloo and Christian.
“I think this weekend will be a very good measuring stick for where are boys are right now,” Ferguson said. “They have played well at times this season, but they haven't really had a lot of tough matches where they have been pushed. I think that's going to happen this weekend and with such a new team this year, it will be very interesting to see how they respond.”
The Havre Invitational tennis tournament will get under way at 8 a.m on Saturday. The No. 1's and No. 2's will be playing at the Bill Vaughey Memorial Tennis Courts and the No. 3's as well as the Havre High junior varsity team will be competing at the upper courts on the campus of Montana State University-Northern.