Havre Daily News Staff
The weather is finally taking a turn for the better, and so is the tennis that the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams are playing right now. And it's just in time too, as the Blue Ponies are set to take part in the Central A Divisional tennis tournament on Friday and Saturday in Lewistown. The HHS boys come into the tournament having won a remarkable 13 straight Central A team titles. But getting the 14th in a row won't be easy according to Blue Pony head coach George Ferguson. "Lewistown has a strong team and is certainly capable of pushing us this weekend," Ferguson said. "In many ways, we are a young team and that affects our depth, and you need depth in a tournament like this. But with all of the talent we have, and how well we're playing, I still think we can do very well this weekend." The Ponies enter Friday's competition with the defending singles champion and half of the defending doubles champion. Junior Shane Kemmer (14-5) has finished second and first in his two previous divisional tournament appearances, and he is poised to repeat again this year. But he will have to get by Lewistown's Justin Hartford, another singles standout. HHS also has a strong doubles team in senior Todd Roe and Kyle Miller (16-1). Last season, Roe and teammate Billy Wagner captured the doubles title, and now Roe and Miller, who finished fourth in singles as a freshman, are the heavy favorites this week. Havre does have some depth on the boys side too, with seniors David Zentmire and Brad Hanson (13-8) at No. 2 doubles and junior Mason Sheppard (14-5) at No. 2 singles. Zentmire has reached the state tournament in doubles in each of the last two seasons with different partners, and he and Hanson should get there this weekend. Sheppard has also played well all season, and has come within one match of reaching the state tournament in each of the last two seasons. The Ponies also have one of the strongest No. 3 doubles teams in juniors Nate Christianson and Nolan Holden (7-3), and the duo gives HHS a good chance to qualify all three of its doubles teams for the state tournament. Rounding out the lineup for the Ponies this weekend is Keenan Dolezal (6-10) at No. 3 singles and Jake Ulgenes (0-5) at the No. 4 spot. Neither player has played at the divisional level yet. "Our boys team is starting to come together," Ferguson said. "We have a lot of new faces and kids playing different spots than they did a year ago, so it's taken a while. But I like our chances this weekend. Lewistown is strong and Livingston has some talent, but if we play well, we should have a lot of success at this tournament." On the girls side, just one year removed from having won three divisional titles in a row, and a Class A state championship, the HHS girls went into rebuilding mode last season, but the Ponies still finished second at the divisional tournament and third at state. And while the Ponies are still a youthful and inexperienced team, last weekend's 5-0 mark in duals against Central A competition has them favored to bring home the team title this weekend. "Our depth could play a big factor," Ferguson said. "We have three outstanding doubles teams and any one of them are capable of getting hot and winning this tournament, and that's a big advantage. "And we also have Katie Mariani and Hope Hedges and that doesn't hurt either," he added. "Katie has dominated this tournament for two years and Hope is on a 16-match winning streak, so we are certainly in a good position. Livingston is the defending champion and the defending state champions so somebody is going to have to knock them off. Hopefully, that will be us." Mariani (17-1) is seeking to become the first Central A girl to win three straight singles titles, but she'll have to get through not only tough players like Hedges (16-1) and Lewistown's Abby Knab, but also her arch rival, Livingston's Anna Arrasmith. The two have played in the divisional championship match in each of the last two seasons, with Mariani winning both times. In all, the two seniors have faced each other nine times in their career inlcuding the state championship match last year in Miles City. Rounding out the singles lineup for HHS is sophomore Christina Plum (6-11) and freshman Christina Mack (7-3). Plum played doubles at last year's divisional tournament. In doubles, HHS has three even and strong teams, led by the No. 1 tandem of sophomores Haley Donovan and Courtney Kinholt (10-11) and the No. 2 team of sophomores Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf (12-8). All four played well at the divisional tournament as freshmen and that experience should help them this weekend. HHS also has an outstanding No. 3 team in senior Haley McLain and junior Mikaela Lipp (8-2), and that tandem could be one of the teams to beat this weekend. "This is a tough week," Ferguson said. "There's a lot of pressure on these kids because we've had so much success in the past and because they all want so badly to make it to the state tournament. "But the good thing is, our kids are peaking at the right time," he added. "I really believe that all of our players are starting to play their best tennis right now, and that's what you want to happen." The Ponies will join Lewistown, Livingston, Anaconda and Butte Central this weekend for the Central A tournament. The top four places in each bracket will advance to the Class A state tournament next Thursday and Friday in Polson and Ronan. The Central A tourney gets under way at 8 a.m. on Friday and runs through Saturday afternoon in Lewistown.