Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Up until Friday, the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams have played only Class A or B-C opponents. But that’s all about to change. Of all of the Class A schools, the Blue Ponies play one of the most demanding schedules in high school tennis, and that starts Friday morning in Helena with the prestigious Helena Invitational. The Helena Invitational features all 13 Class AA schools, as well as boys and girls teams from Havre and Livingston, and girls teams from Anaconda and Dillon. And the format is also unique as singles players and doubles teams are matched by their ranking on the team, meaning all No. 1’s play in a bracket, as well as the No. 2’s and No. 3’s in both singles and doubles. “Most people in tennis will agree that outside of the state tournament, these two days in Helena are the most competitive in Montana high school tennis,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “Each bracket is loaded with good singles players and good double teams, and it is extremely competitive because the format doesn’t allow for very many mismatches. So you have to be ready to play right at the start of the tournament.” In the past, HHS has dominated the Helena invite despite all of the Class AA competition. If team scores had been kept, the Havre boys would have won four out of the last six Helena tournament’s, and the Pony girls would have captured two of the last four, according to Ferguson. But this year’s tournament will put the Blue Ponies at a little bit of disadvantage because of their youth, especially on the girls side. Still, Ferguson is excited and optimistic about this weekend’s tournament. “This is a great opportunity for both our young kids and our veterans,” Ferguson said. “Our schedule is extremely tough the next three weeks, so this weekend will prepare our kids for what is yet to come. “And for our top players, this is a chance for them to compete against the best in the state and see how they stack up,” he added. “And for our younger players and our newcomers, there is no better learning experience than this tournament.” The HHS boys will have sophomore Shane Kemmer manning the No. 1 singles spot, followed by freshman Kyle Miller at No. 2 and sophomore Mason Sheppard at No. 3. In doubles, the duo of Billy Wagner and Todd Roe will play together for the first time this season at No. 1, while Ryan Kinholt and David Zentmire will play No. 2 and Tim McLean and Brad Hanson will play at No. 3. “I think in singles, we should do very well this weekend,” Ferguson said. “But it’s tough. Boys singles in AA is loaded every year, but I have a lot of confidence in our three kids. “Doubles will also be tough,” he added. “But I feel like we have three very good teams and all three of them can go a long way this weekend. I’m just really excited because like most years, this is the first tournament where we will get to see our whole boys varsity team together. So it should be very interesting.” On the girls side, the young Ponies will once again not be at full strength, as HHS is still without junior Haley McLain. The Ponies will have junior Katie Mariani at No. 1 singles and freshman Courtney Kinholt at the No. 3 spot. HHS will not enter a No. 2 singles player. In doubles, HHS will go with Christen Kittelson and Hope Hedges at No. 1, Melissa Kittelson and Haley Donovan at No. 2 and Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf at No. 3. “This weekend will be tough for our girls because we are so inexperienced, especially in doubles,” Ferguson said. “But the competition we will see and face will only make all of them better. So I’m excited to play this weekend and I know our kids are too.” The Helena Invitational will get under way at 9 a.m. on Friday and run through Saturday afternoon. Four different locations are used for the tournament throughout the capitol city.