Havre Daily News
After a successful start to the 2006 tennis season, the Havre High tennis team will get the opportunity to see how it stacks up against the best the state has to offer in the Helena Invitational this Friday and Saturday.
The Helena Invitational tournament is widely considered to be the most competitive tournament in Montana high school tennis.
The field includes all 13 class AA schools and some of the top class A schools including Havre, the Livingston girls and the Dillon girls.
The Blue Ponies have been very successful at the tournament in recent years. Team scores are not kept at the tournament, but if they were the Havre boys would have captured the last four team titles and the girls would have been champions in 2004.
The tournament has brackets for all the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players in both boys and girls singles and doubles. Last year graduated HHS star Marc Mariani won the boys No. 2 singles bracket, while HHS seniors Chase Castloo and John Christian finished second in the boys No. 2 doubles bracket and the team of Lucas Hamilton and Ryan Kinholt finished third in the No. 3 doubles bracket.
As a freshmen, Katie Mariani also finished third in the No. 3 singles bracket.
“Our program has had a lot of success in this tournament over the years despite all of the great competition there year in and year out,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “But this year things are going to be a little more difficult for us. In the past our boys team, and most recently are girls team has really matched up well with the AA schools. But we are pretty young and inexperienced now. So things are going to be a little more difficult this weekend. But no matter what happens, this tournament is great preparation for all of our kids because it definitely has a postseason feel to it.”
This year the HHS boys team will be led by No. 1 singles player Scott Miller and the the No. 1 doubles tandem of Castloo and Christian. Sophomore Todd Roe will be Havre's No. 2 singles player and freshman Shane Kemmer will be the No. 3 singles player for the Ponies.
Kinholt and David Zentmire will make up the Ponies No. 2 doubles team and rounding out the roster for the boys will be the team of Tim McLean and Mason Sheppard, who will play No. 3 doubles.
“Our boys team still has a chance to do very well this weekend if they play like we know they are capable of,” Ferguson said. “We're missing a couple of key varsity players in Billy Wagner and Jordan Croft because of other commitments so we're throwing some more young kids into the fire. But it will be good for them. I am excited for Scott Miller to have a chance to play No. 1 because boys singles at this tournament is loaded with good players and it will be a very good experience for him to play some high quality opponents.”
The HHS girls team will be led by Mariani, who is the Ponies No. 1 singles player. Sophomore Haley McLain will be in the No. 2 spot for Havre and in the third spot will be freshman Hope Hedges, who is quickly making a name for herself in her first year on the squad.
“Girls singles is also very tough at this tournament, especially the No. 1's,” Ferguson said. “But Katie has already proven that she belongs with all of the top singles players in the state. After playing Danni Paulson of Whitefish last weekend, I think playing in the No. 1 bracket this weekend won't be intimidating to Katie at all. She is just a really great competitor.”
In doubles action Havre's No. 1 team of Steph Flatau and Keelie Solomon will not be making the trip so the Ponies will be short a doubles team. But they will still have their No. 2 team of Kristi Hollingshead and Kari Gorder as well as their No. 3 team of Karissa Olson and Alexa Lipp.
“I am excited to see how all of our girls do this weekend,” Ferguson said. “All our kids love this tournament because of how difficult it is. I know they will all raise their game up a level this weekend and after it is over, they will all be better players win or lose.
“As a whole I thought we just didn't quite get to where we needed to be at our tournament last weekend,” Ferguson added. “But this week all of the kids will have a chance to really step it up a notch and I fully expect that they will. They are all really tough competitors.”
The 2006 Helena Invitational tennis tournament will get under way on Friday morning at 9 a.m. at different locations across the capital city. The tournament will conclude on Saturday afternoon.