Havre Daily News
There will be a lot on the line when the Havre High tennis teams take to the courts at CMR High School for the opening day of the Great Falls Invitational tennis tournament.
The HHS boys bring an almost two-year undefeated streak in dual matches into duals against Butte High and Billings Senior. And both Havre High teams are also looking at this weekend's tournament as another opportunity to prepare themselves for the postseason in Class A tennis, which is just a mere three weeks away.
“Time is running out on our season,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “And this weekend is always kind of a measuring stick to see how far we have come since the beginning of March. We are facing some very good competition this weekend, and the kids know that now is the time when they need to start taking their game up a notch or two.”
In 2005, the Havre High boys team went undefeated in dual competition, including a rousing 5-2 win over eventual Class AA state champion Billings Senior in Great Falls. Senior is again heavily favored to capture the Class AA boys crown this season, having lost only one player from last year's team. That player, however, was three-time Class AA state champion Sean Harris, who now plays tennis for the Naval Academy.
Meanwhile, the Blue Ponies have a revamped look this season after losing five members off their 2005 state championship squad. That should make them the underdog in today's matchup with the Broncs, which to Havre High is unfamiliar territory.
“Billings Senior is a great team and they are pretty much talented from top to bottom,” Ferguson said. “And we won't have Chase Castloo this week because of other obligations, so that is going to make this dual pretty tough for us.
“But our kids are excited about playing the best team in Class AA head to head,” he added. “It will be a great test for us and great experience for all of our kids.”
The Ponies will face Senior today at 6 p.m. Havre also faces Butte at 2 p.m. at the CMR courts. On Saturday, Havre will square off against the host CMR Rustlers at 10 a.m., and the Ponies will wrap up the tournament against Class B rival Cut Bank at 2 p.m.
Without Castloo in Havre's lineup this weekend, Ferguson will be forced to make some adjustments. Billy Wagner and John Christian will play No. 1 doubles with Ryan Kinholt and David Zentmire at the No. 2 spot. Havre will also have Mason Sheppard, Brad Hanson, Tim McLean and Jordan Croft going back and forth between the No. 3 doubles team and possibly playing some singles. Todd Roe, Shane Kemmer and Scott Miller round out the HHS lineup this weekend.
The HHS girls will also open the Great Falls Invitational against Butte this afternoon. And like the Havre High boys team, the Blue Pony girls will be missing a critical component in sophomore Katie Mariani. That will give sophomore Haley McLain, who has been playing very well this season, a chance to step up and play the top singles spot for the Ponies this weekend.
“Our girls team is really starting to gel right now,” Ferguson said. “And I think this weekend will be good for Haley because even though she is going to play at least three really seasoned players, it will be a great experience for her and one that will no doubt prepare her well for divisionals and state.”
Havre's toughest dual will also be Billings Senior, which also is slated to repeat as Class AA champions this season. The Broncs are led by sophomore singles sensation Miss Harris, who has yet to lose a high school match in a year and a half as a high school tennis player. Last year in Great Falls, the Broncs soundly defeated the HHS girls 6-1.
“Billings Senior has three very good singles players,” Ferguson said. “Their No. 2 would probably be most Class AA teams' No. 1 player. But I think we stack up with them much better than we did last year because we are much deeper in doubles.”
The Havre High girls lineup will be virtually unchanged this weekend with the exception of Mariani. All of Havre's singles players will move up and junior Christen Kittelson will step into the No. 4 singles spot this weekend.
“This will be a great tournament for our girls team because they are playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Ferguson said. “Hopefully that will continue this weekend, because they can take so many positives away from a format like this.”
Aside from facing Butte and Billings Senior today, the HHS girls will also face CMR and Cut Bank on Saturday.
The 2006 Great Falls Invitational gets under way this morning at tennis courts across Great Falls and will run through Saturday afternoon.