Pony boys dominate Central A meet; Mariani repeats in girl’s singles
Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
It may be a new year in Havre High tennis, but for the Blue Pony boys team, it was business as usual this weekend at the Central A divisional tournament in Lewistown. On Saturday afternoon, the Ponies captured their ninth straight Central A crown, and in the process, they won the singles portion of the tournament for an astounding eighth straight time and the doubles event for an amazing ninth consecutive season. The Ponies got a singles championship from sophomore Shane Kemmer and a doubles title from the team of Billy Wagner and Todd Roe, and their depth helped them to 53 points and a wide margin of victory over second-place Lewistown. “Some people might have thought we weren’t as good a team as in years past,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “And there was no question that our division was a lot stronger this year. “So for those reasons alone, I am really proud of our whole boys team,” he added. “They always feel a lot of pressure no matter how much we as coaches try to take it off them. They just put a lot on themselves. And they went to Lewistown and took care of business this weekend. Everybody contributed, and everybody played their hardest and their best, and the results this weekend speak for themselves.” Kemmer had an outstanding Saturday for the Ponies. In two matches, he avenged several losses this season, as he beat Livingston’s Sean Gilmore in a thrilling three-set match in the semifinals, and Lewistown’s Justin Hartford in the championship match. Previously, Kemmer was a combined 1-3 against the pair this season. “Shane was a huge catalyst for our team this weekend,” Ferguson said. “He was the No. 1 seed for a reason and he lived up to it. I’m really proud of Shane because he really battled hard to get to the championship match, and even when his game was a little off, he gave it 100 percent. That means a lot to me, and he deserves this championship because he went out and fought hard for it.” Freshman Kyle Miller also reached the semifinals for before losing to Hartford. But Miller bounced back to place fourth and move on to the state tournament. Mason Sheppard was also a big reason why HHS dominated the team competition. Sheppard won three times for the Ponies, but came up agonizingly short of qualifying for the state tourney. “Kyle has had a great freshman season and he was really close to making it another all-Havre final this weekend,” Ferguson said. “And with how he has played this year, he is going to be a factor at the state tournament in some way. “And Mason was a big part of why we scored so many points for the second straight year,” he added. “Mason is a really good player and is probably the best player in the state that won’t be in Miles City this weekend. It’s tough because he’s another one of those guys that never quits. So it just kills you to see him come up just a little short. But he’ll be back and he will be a force in this division for the next two years.” In doubles, Roe and Wagner breezed into the championship match where they squared off against Lewistown’s Matt and Stephen Gruener. The match was highly anticipated and Wagner and Roe didn’t disappoint, beating the Grueners, 7-6, 6-1. The championship was the second straight for Wagner, who teamed up with John Christian to win that title and the Class A championship last year. “I am really happy for Billy because it was tough to change partners two different times like he has. It just goes to show what a great doubles player he is because he has never finished worse than second in this tournament. And I am really proud of Todd because he’s the one who had to join up with a state champion, and he has done more than hold his own. He’s made that team one of the best doubles teams in the state, and he just played great tennis this weekend.” HHS also got a strong weekend from Ryan Kinholt and David Zentmire. The duo reached the semifinals before losing, but rebounded to finish fourth. HHS’s No. 3 team of Brad Hanson and Tim Mclean also played well, but fell one win shy of the state tourney. The Ponies will now send six boys to the Class A state tournament where they should be a trophy contender this weekend in Miles City. “We are right where we want to be,” Ferguson said. “There are some good teams out there, but we have put ourself in position to make a run at another state championship and it’s because of all 10 of these guys and what they have done on the court this season.” On the girls side, junior Katie Mariani made history this weekend by becoming the second straight HHS player to repeat as Central A singles champion. Amy McLain accomplished the feat in 2004 and 2005, and on Saturday, Mariani did it when she thumped her archrival, Livingston’s Anna Arrasmith, 6-2, 6-4 in the championship match. “Katie is just amazing,” Ferguson said. “She is just a really tough competitor and she just has that winner’s mentality. “She was pretty much uncontested until the final,” he added. “And then she went out and put together a great performance against a really good player in Arrasmith. Katie just dominated this tournament from start to finish and she left no doubt about who the best player in our division is right now.” Mariani’s performance helped springboard the young HHS girls team to a solid second-place finish after the Ponies scored 39 points. As expected, Livingston ran away with the team title, scoring a whopping 70 points and qualifying nine girls for the state tournament. Livingston’s win ended HHS’s three-year hold on the girl’s championship. “I am really pleased with how we did as a team,” Ferguson said. “The score might look lopsided, and there is no doubt that Livingston is a great team. But we went head-to-head in three late matches with them, that if the results had turned out in our favor, things would have been a lot closer. So I am really proud of our team because I think they did a lot more than anyone expected them to do when the season started.” Despite having all four singles players in the quarterfinals, Mariani was the only HHS player to reach the state tourney. Sophomore Hope Hedges was upset in the consolation semifinals, and junior Haley McLain was narrowly beaten by Livingston’s Hanna Barney in the same round. Senior Christen Kittelson also came within two wins of reaching the state tournament. “You feel terrible for all of those kids,” Ferguson said. “Because they are all three good enough to be playing this weekend. But unfortunately that’s the way it goes sometimes. None of those girls have anything to be ashamed of because they gave it their all and fought as hard as they could. It’s just that some days your game isn’t quite what you need it to be for no apparent reason, and that’s what happened to Hope and Haley. But they are both great players and they will be back.” In doubles, the Ponies got a tremendous effort from all six of their freshmen. The duo of Haley Donovan and Courtney Kinholt came within one match of reaching the state tournament, losing to Livingston’s No. 3 team in the consolation semifinals. And the team of Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf knocked off Butte Central’s No. 1 duo. Havre’s No. 3 team of Melissa Kittelson and Christina Plum also played well in two losses. “I am so proud of all of our freshmen,” Ferguson said. “They all really rose to the occasion this weekend. And they proved that if they keep after it, next year could be a very big year for our girls program, because as young as we were this year, we had a great divisonal tournament as a team, and all of those freshmen are a big part of that.” HHS will now prepare for the Class A state tournament which gets under way Thursday morning in Miles City.