Havre Daily News
This weekend at the Central A Divisional tennis tournament in Lewistown, streaks will be on the line for both the Havre High girls and HHS boys tennis teams.
Long, successful winning streaks.
The Central A tournament will get under way on Friday morning, and when it does, the Havre High boys tennis team will put a seven-year winning streak in focus. Havre has dominated the Central A boy's tennis landscape for years and from the outside looking in, things shouldn't be any different this year.
But HHS head coach George Ferguson is quick to point out that the eighth consecutive Central A team title might be the most difficult one the Havre High boys team has tried to win in quite some time.
“We're a different team and even though we have a lot of talent and some veteran kids, we lack a lot of postseason experience,” Ferguson said. “So it will be interesting to see how the boys perform early in the tournament, because the early rounds and the consolation matches are where you make up a lot of team points.
“But I do know this,” Ferguson added. “Just because we may not have the proven kids that we have had in the past, teams would be crazy to think that we can't do just as well as we have done in the past.”
The HHS boys may have lost four-time Central A singles champion Kyle Baltrusch and two-time doubles champions Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner, but little has really changed in the world of Central A boys tennis. The Ponies are the favorite to capture the 2006 Central A singles crown and they have some of the tournament's top players in senior Chase Castloo and one of the top doubles teams in the division in John Christian and Billy Wagner.
Castloo finished third at the Central A tourney in Butte last season and he finished second to Baltrusch in 2004, so he knows what it takes to be successful at this level. Senior Scott Miller, who plays No. 3 singles for Havre, finished fourth last season in Butte, and he gives the Ponies two veteran singles players in the draw this week. Havre will also enter a pair of talented freshmen in singles in Shane Kemmer and Mason Sheppard. Kemmer plays No. 2 for HHS and Sheppard is at the No. 4 spot.
“I think we have four kids who could all qualify for the state tournament in any order,” Ferguson said. “Chase and Scott have been there before and Shane is a very talented player who just keeps getting better with every match he plays. Mason is also a very capable player.”
In doubles, Wagner and Christian have been on a roll since Ferguson teamed them up
last month. But this weekend, they will likely have to face Lewistown's talented duo of Matt and Stephen Gruener yet again. The two team's have met in each of the last two tournaments with Wagner and Christian winning both matches by the slimmest of margins.
“A rubber match will have to happen in the championship match so we'll just have to wait and see,” Ferguson said. “But one thing is for sure, those two teams are as
close as two teams can get. The last two times they have played each other the match has come down to tiebreakers, so it can't get any closer than that. The Grueners are a very talented team and they have been playing well all year.”
Ferguson is also counting on his depth in doubles to aid the Ponies in the team race this weekend. Ryan Kinholt and Todd Roe play No. 2 doubles for HHS, and they could make a big splash this weekend. Jordan Croft and David Zentmire are Havre's No. 3 doubles team.
“I like how our doubles teams are playing right now,” Ferguson said. “Ryan and Todd are a team that people really need to watch this weekend because they are playing very good tennis together. And Jordan and David are as good a No. 3 team as you'll see.”
As far as the team race is concerned, despite their lack of experience, the Ponies are still the team to beat until someone knocks them off their Central A pedestal. And while there haven't been many challengers over the last seven years, Ferguson admits that Lewistown has assembled a team that could give Havre a run for its money this weekend.
“Lewistown has a very good team,” Ferguson said. “They have three solid singles players and as good a No. 1 doubles team as there is in the state. But I think that if our kids play with confidence and play their game, we are going to be tough to beat.”
While the HHS boys team is gunning for an unprecedented eighth consecutive divisional championship this weekend, the Havre High girls are trying to make a little history as well. Two years ago in Bozeman, the Ponies won their first ever Central A title, knocking off six-time defending champion Livingston. Havre backed up that title with its second straight last season in Butte, and the Ponies set a meet record for points along the way.
But if Havre is to win its third straight Central A championship this weekend, they will have to do it without two-time defending Central A champion Amy McLain, who was one of the most prolific singles players in Central A history. Havre will also once again have to battle it out with Livingston for the right to be called Central A champions.
“It is going to be a very close race in my estimation,” Ferguson said of the girl's meet. “Livingston is always deep and they are again this season.
“And we are a little young in singles this season,” he added. “But we have a lot of talent in singles and our depth in doubles will hopefully get us over the hump.”
Indeed, the three HHS doubles teams are composed of all seniors, including the outstanding tandem of Keelie Solomon and Steph Flatau. The duo has had a great run over the past four seasons, but a Central A doubles title has eluded them. In their first three seasons, Solomon and Flatau have finished fourth, second and second, respectively.
“Steph and Keelie have been around a long time and they have been very good for a long time,” Ferguson said. “But they also came up in an era when girl's doubles is very good in our division and in Class A.”
Solomon and Flatau aren't the only HHS duo that should make a push for a berth in the Class A state tournament next weekend in Polson. Havre's No. 2 combo of Alexa Lipp and Karissa Olson and its No. 3 team of Kari Gorder and Kristi Hollingshead both have a wealth of experience and talent. And both teams are in the hunt for finishing in the top four this weekend.
“Alexa and Karissa and Kari and Kristi both have a good chance to go to state,” Ferguson said. “Both teams have really come a long way this season and they are playing very good tennis heading into the tournament. It is very exciting to have three good doubles team like we do.”
While the HHS doubles teams have a chance to do very well this weekend, the Ponies still have an outstanding singles contingent, led by sophomores Katie Mariani and Haley McLain.
Mariani finished fourth at the 2005 Central A tournament in Butte and will play No. 1 for the Ponies in Lewistown. McLain is one of Havre's most improved players this season, and she has an outstanding chance to finish in the top four in Lewistown.
Havre will also have steadily improving freshman Hope Hedges at No. 3 singles and veteran senior Jocelyn Chagnon at No. 4.
“Katie and Haley both have a chance to win a divisional title this weekend, they are playing that well,” Ferguson said. “And Hope has come along way from the beginning of the season. But what makes us so deep is to have a No. 4 like Jocelyn Chagnon.”
The 2006 Central A Divisional tennis tournament will get under way at 8 a.m. on Friday morning in Lewistown. The tournament will conclude on Saturday afternoon.