Chris Peterson Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Last year, the Havre High girls basketball was eliminated in the Class A state tournament by Bigfork, yet the Blue Ponies have the perfect shot at revenge as they begin another run at the state championship. Havre, which fell to Bigfork in the consolation round of last year’s state tournament will open the 2008 Class A state tournament against the same Valkyrie team Thursday in Hamilton at 2 p.m. HHS opened the 2007 state tournament with a 65-60 upset victory over Anaconda. However, the Ponies state title dreams were quickly dashed with a loss to eventual state champion Miles City in the semifinals. They were then eliminated from trophy contention by Bigfork, which defeated them 55-34. And the Ponies, making their second straight state tournament appearnace will have their hands full once again against a Bigfork team that is led by dominating 6-2 senior forward Alyssa Fierro. “Bigfork is a very good basketball team,” HHS head coach Dustin Kraske said. “They obviously have a lot more size than we do, which is something that we are going to have to work hard to overcome. But we just need to focus on making shots and trying to keep them off the offensive boards. Teams in this tournament are too good to give extra shot attempts too.” The Valkyries (19-1) cruised to their second consecutive Northwest A divisional championship after defeating Whitefish 49-40 in the Northwest tournament championship two weeks ago. Fierro, who is a devastating presence in the post, will be the Ponies’ top priority on defense. Along with Fierro, Bigfork is also blessed with a number of talented seniors, who are back for a return trip to the state tournament led by senior guard Hattie Bowen, as well Avery Vogel and Jaylee Haveman. “We have a few different things that we are going to do defensively,” Kraske said. “A big key for us is to try and make them play more of an up-tempo game than they are used to. We are built on speed and we want to try and take advantage of that.” The Ponies also return an experienced team, with four of their five starters back from last season. Leading the way for Havre (14-6) are seniors Katie Mariani and Steph Stremcha. Mariani leads a talented three-guard attack that also features senior Tricia Samson and junior Hope Hedges. She also leads the team in scoring with 11.8 points per game. Meanwhile, Stremcha has added a much-needed inside presence for the Ponies and is second on the team in scoring with 9.8 points per game to go along with a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game. Samson also contributed with 8.1 points per game as well as 3.1 assists per game to go with 7.2 points per game and 2.9 steals per game from Hedges. “We just have to make shots,” Kraske said. “When we played (Bigfork) last year we got a lot of open looks and we just didn’t convert. We are going to have to shot the ball well if we want to win and we need to try and find a way to get some easy baskets.” And making shots will be key for HHS, because its something the Blue Ponies didn;t do enough of in a loss to Livingston in the Central A championship game two weeks ago in Great Falls. Like last season, HHS had to challenge its way in to the state tournament, as the Ponies beat Butte Central in a Monday- night challenge game. The winner of Havre and Bigfork will advance to the semifinal round, where it will await either Anaconda or defending state champion Miles City. Miles City (19-2) is in the hunt for another state championship behind the play of an explosive offensive attack, which is led by senior guard Torrie Cahill, as well as Kalli Durham and Kaycee Cooley. Anaconda (19-1) will counter with superstar forward Ali Hurley. Hurley is a three-time all-state performer and is leading the Copperheads into the state tournament for the fourth-consecutive season. Anaconda, the Southwest A champion and Miles City, the Eastern A runner-up will kickoff the state tournament on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. The Livingston Rangers (15-5), who defeated Havre in the Central A divisional championship for the second straight season, will take on Whitefish (13-7), the second-place finisher in the Northwest A in the first round at 6:30 p. m. That game will feature two of the best guards in the state as Sage Indendi of Livingston will square off against Ashley Ferda of Whitefish. Thursday's nightcap will pit Eastern A champion Glendive (19-1) against Southwest A runner-up Dillon (11-10) at 8 p.m. Glendive, the state runner-up in 2007 and Dillon are both making return trips to the state tournament, but the Red Devils, led by Hannah McPherson and Carly Selvig, appear to be the heavy favorite. However, Dillon, which is led by the likes of Hayley Pettit and Susanne Rehse, doesn’t figure to back down. “Right now I think that this year it is really wide open,” Kraske said. “There are some very strong teams that are going to be back this year. All the teams were so young last year that it is really going to be hard to tell how it’s all going to play out.” The Class A state tournament will begin on Thursday and continue through Saturday in Hamilton.