Havre Daily News Staff
It won’t be easy by any means, but when play begins today at the Class A state tennis tournament in Polson and Ronan, the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams will certainly be trophy hunting. The HHS boys, fresh off a Central A championship, have brought home 11 straight trophies from the state tournament, including a third-place finish last year in Miles City. Havre is also working on a streak of seven straight years of a doubles team playing for the state championship, and Blue Pony head coach George Ferguson said that this weekend, those streaks have a strong chance of continuing. “The six boys we are taking to state are a strong and balanced group,” Ferguson said. “We have two very good singles players and two good doubles teams, and that combination should score us a lot of points if we play well.” Leading the way for the Blue Ponies is their top doubles team of Todd Roe and Kyle Miller (19-1), one of two favorites this weekend. The duo easily captured the Central A title last week in Lewistown and they have lost just one match all season. Their chief competition will come from the top team from Whitefish, as well as teams from Corvallis and Columbia Falls. Havre will also bring its No. 2 team of seniors David Zentmire and Brad Hanson (16-10) to the tournament, and that tandem should also give the Ponies points this week. In the singles draw, junior Shane Kemmer (16-6) has a wealth of state tournament experience, and is now one of the top players in Class A tennis. Fellow junior Mason Sheppard (17-7) is making his first state tournament appearance, but he has had an outstanding season capped off by a fourth-place finish at the divisional tournament. “Like I said, we are very balanced,” Ferguson said. “Todd played for the state title in doubles last year, and he and Kyle are a tremendous team. And Shane knows what it takes to win matches at state, and with how much his game has improved, the sky is the limit for him this weekend. “I also think that Mason Sheppard can win in this draw,” he added. “He has a tough first round match, but he is playing the best tennis of his life right now, and a hot player is a dangerous player in these tournaments. The same goes for Brad and David. They are a really good doubles team and people are going to have to watch out for them.” As for the team title, Whitefish has the inside track after finishing second to Billings Central A year ago. The Bulldogs qualified seven players for the state tournament, including foreign exchange student Renzo Caimi in singles. Caimi is a highly-regarded player who has yet to lose a match this season. Ferguson also points to Corvallis, Lewistown and Glendive as teams that will also contend for a trophy this weekend. “Whitefish is loaded and they are going to be tough to outscore,” Ferguson said. “But that’s why you play these tournaments. Because until the matches are played, you can’t really predict what’s going to happen. All I know is that we have a strong team and we are going to put our best foot forward this weekend, and when we do, good things will happen for us.” Meanwhile, the Havre High girls were considered a state tournament favorite at the beginning of the season, and after last weekend’s Central A championship, the Ponies are starting to live up to that billing. Like the boys team, the HHS girls will bring six players into today’s tournament after only qualifying one a year ago Class A singles runner-up Katie Mariani. Mariani (20-2) is back for her senior year, and she is looking for nothing short of a state championship in singles after coming so close a year ago. And to do it, she will have to get through a tough draw, including her nemesis, Livingston’s Anna Arrasmith. That tough draw also includes HHS teammate Hope Hedges (20-2), who like, Mariani, has only lost twice all season. The two are on a roll, and give Havre plenty of reason to have high hopes this weekend. “We knew we would be very strong in singles this year,” Ferguson said. “And both Katie and Hope are playing at a real high level right now. It’s possible that they could both place in this tournament , but whatever happens, I know they are both going to play very well. Katie is very motivated to get back to the championship match after last year, and her game looks really good right now. And Hope has been on fire all season, so things look very good for us right now.” In doubles, HHS has two teams in the field this week as Courtney Kinholt and Haley Donovan and Morgan McCann (14-12) and Jolee Landgraf (15-10) both reached the stat e tournament. They will have tough draws having to play the top two teams from Polson in the first round. The Polson teams are expected to play each other for the state championship, but the Havre duos can have something to say about that. “This is what we were hoping for this year,” Ferguson. “Last year, all four of those kids were freshman but they have now played together for almost two full seasons. So things are really starting to click for them. They are still learning to play doubles at the elite level, but at the same time, both teams are really starting to play well. So this is going to be a great week for them, win or lose. But if they do play like they are capable of, then that makes our whole team that much better.” As for the girls team title, things should be pretty even this week. The Ponies have the players to score points and Livingston, the defending state champion is right there again too. Polson could also vie for the title and Billings Central is also bringing a strong team to the state tournament. “Our chances are really good if things fall into place,” Ferguson said. “We have a really strong girls team this year, and if we play well, we should have a lot of success.” “I’m just really excited for all of these kids to get this opportunity,” he added. “The state tournament is the best of the best, and we are a big part of that. So now, we are just looking forward to getting on the court and form there, we’ll see what happens.” Today’s first round of the Class A state tournament has the girls playing in Polson and the boys playing in Ronan. The final day of competition will be played in Polson only.