Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Fresh off an eighth straight divisional championship and a dominating performance in Lewistown, the Havre High boys tennis team will be in unchartered territory this weekend. When the Class A state tennis tournament gets under way Thursday morning in Miles City, the HHS boys will not be the defending state champions for the first time in six years. Last season, the Ponies finished one point short of winning a seventh straight state title. Instead, Corvallis captured the team title, and a year later, HHS head coach George Ferguson thinks that scenario will actually work in his team’s favor. “Last year is in the past,” Ferguson said. “I am so proud of our team for putting it behind them and focusing on this year. They have been determined to improve and become better players and a better team. The emphasis has been on that all season, and not on a winning streak or anything else. And with that being said, I think we can approach this tournament a lot more relaxed and feeling a lot less pressure.” Even without the label of state champion on them, that doesn’t mean the Blue Ponies aren’t favored to win the state championship this season. Havre, along with Corvallis, qualified six competitors for this week’s tourney, the most of any team. Ferguson added that the field is wide open, with Whitefish, Corvallis, Billings Central and Havre being the front-runners. “I don’t think anyone is going to run away with this tournament,” Ferguson said. “There’s a lot of really good individual talent in the tournament, but it’s spread out. So it’s going to be a lot like last year; the team scores are going to be pretty close.” Whitefish and Billings Central possess the likely favorites in singles. Bulldog sophomore Matt Harris and Billings Central sophomore Jordan Hatzell are expected to reach the final, but Ferguson is hoping his two young singles players have something to say about that. HHS freshman Kyle Miller has been outstanding in his debut season, going 26-8 at the No. 2 singles spot. Miller, who finished fourth in the Central A, will get the first crack at Hatzell in Thursday’s opening round. Meanwhile, sophomore Shane Kemmer comes into the state tournament riding high after a brilliant display of tennis in the divisional tournament. Kemmer became the fourth straight HHS singles player to capture the Central A title, and he did it in scintillating fashion. Now Kemmer is one of the top four seeds in the state tourney. He will begin his quest to meet Hatzell in the semifinals by facing Glendive’s Blake Anderson in the first round. “Kyle and Shane are both tremendous talents,” Ferguson said. “And they both have the ability to take their careers as far as they want to. This weekend, they just have to have the confidence and the belief that they can play with and beat anybody, because they really can. I have all the belief in the world that they are two of the best singles players in the state, and I’m hoping they get a chance to show that to the rest of the field this weekend.” While Kemmer and Miller will both play key roles in any success HHS might have in Miles City, doubles is where the Ponies could make or break the field. HHS’s No. 1 duo of Todd Roe and Billy Wagner dominated the Central A tournament, including a 7-6, 6-1 win over Lewistown seniors Matt and Stephen Gruener. The win was Wagner’s second divisional title, and he and Roe will now attempt to become the fourth straight HHS team to win a state championship. The streak started with Jeremy Heninger and Daine Solomon in 2003, and Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner won back-to-back titles in 2004-05. Last season, Billy Wagner and John Christian teamed up to win yet another title for the Ponies. “Todd and Billy are certainly one of the favorites this weekend,” Ferguson said. “They passed a huge litmus test in beating the Grueners, because they are a very good team and they were undefeated this season. “I am just so proud of Todd, because he really stepped up and worked hard to improve this year knowing that he was probably going to be paired with Billy. And Billy is one of the most consistent players I have ever coached. When it’s time to play, he’s always ready. Together, they have become another in the long line of great Havre High doubles teams.” Wagner and Roe will open the tournament against Cody Maynerd and Grant Getts of Columbia Falls. Meanwhile, Havre’s No. 2 team of senior Ryan Kinholt and junior David Zentmire will open against another of the favored teams in the doubles’ draw. Polson’s Jake Grebetz and Karston Erickson are picked to be one of the top teams in the tournament along with the Grueners and Whitefish’s Kyle Jacobsen and Brandon Viscomi. However, Ferguson believes his No. 2 team might have something to say about how things unfold this weekend. “When they are on, David and Ryan are as good a team as there is out there,” Ferguson said. “And I expect them to make things very interesting on opposing teams this weekend. “The doubles has always been important to our success and it is again this year,” Ferguson added. “And we have two really good teams, and I think we our going to have a lot of success in that part of the tournament. And that means our whole team should have success this weekend, and that’s exciting for all of us.” Unlike the boys team, the HHS girls are the defending state champions coming into Miles City. Last May in Polson, a veteran Pony girls team, led by six seniors in doubles, captured Havre High’s first-ever state title in girl’s tennis. However, graduation hit HHS hard last spring, and only junior Katie Mariani was able to make it back to the state tourney this year. But Mariani, the two-time Central A singles champion, could still score enough points for Havre High to be in the trophy hunt this weekend. That’s because Mariani is certainly one of the favorites in singles this weekend, especially after dispatching Livingston’s Anna Arrasmith in the divisional championship in Lewistown on Saturday. “In my mind, Katie has always been one of the favorites in singles this year,” Ferguson said. “But I think the way she dominated the divisional tournament, and especially how she played in the championship match, she proved it to everyone else, as well as to herself.” Mariani isn’t alone in being favored to win this weekend, however. Arrasmith is still among the best players in the field, and Laura Housinger of Billings Central has wins over both Arrasmith and Mariani this season. But one of those two won’t be able to make the final because they will likely run into each other in the semifinals. “Katie will have her work cut out for her,” Ferguson said. “But she thrives in that kind of environment. So I am not worried at all about how she’s going to perform in this tournament. Plus, this is her third trip to state, so she knows what to expect. “I think Katie just has to approach this tournament the same way the boys do,” he added. “She just has to take it one match at a time and she’ll be fine.” As far as the team title goes, Livingston is the heavy favorite this weekend, considering the Rangers sent nine girls in and are coming off a 70-point romp at the Central A divisional. Billings Central and Polson should also contend for a trophy. “Our girls team was young, but they had a great season,” Ferguson said. “We wish we were bringing more girls to state, but it just didn’t work out that way. But I still think we had a great year in girls tennis and I’m already looking forward to next season on that front.” The 2007 Class A state tennis tournament will get under way at 8 a.m. on Thursday in Miles City. The tournament is scheduled to conclude on Friday afternoon.