Daniel Horton Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been a long season, but what every team in the Central A Divison has been working so hard for has finally arrived. On Friday and Saturday, the Central A Divisional volleyball tournament will take place in Butte. Lewistown (16-3, 10-0), Havre (14-6, 7-3), Belgrade (10-9, 7-3), Butte Central (5-12, 3-7), Livingston (4-14, 3-7) and Browning (0-17, 0-10) will all be there battling for the top two spot in hopes of making it to the Class A state tournament next week. The Havre High volleyball team finished the regular season very strong, coming in second place behind the Lewistown Eagles. The Blue Ponies had the choice of taking a first round bye or to play, and they chose to play in the first round against the Browning Indians. The Ponies take on the Indians Friday at 10 a.m. During the regular season, the Ponies had very minimal problems against the Indians. The Ponies swept the Indians in three games in both of their meetings. “Browning is a lot better team this year than they were last year.” Havre High head coach Bill Huebsch said. “I think they have gotten better as the seasons gone on. Even though we have had success against them in the regular season, you don’t dare look over anybody in the tournament.” And since the Ponies are in tournament play and have many possible opponents after facing the Indians, this week’s preparation has been a little different. Instead of just focusing on what to do against the Indians, the Ponies are covering all of their bases. They have played everyone in their division over the regular season, and know what to expect. To do well this weekend, the Ponies are going to need to play sharp, consistent and not make the same mental mistakes they did early in the season. “Everybody has the same record in the tournament.” Huebsch said. “And with whatever you have done before that, it may look good on paper, but it really doesn’t matter.” Executing the fundamentals is going to be key against any team this weekend. The Ponies ability to stay sharp with their serve-receive, ball control, passing and serving will play major roles in their success. The other major factor will be the Ponies defense. “The offense will come, the swings are going to come, but we’ve got to be able to control what happens with the serve receive game.” Huebsch said “And definitely play good defense.” Leading the Central A heading into divisionals are the Lewiston Eagles. They are coming off of a one-loss, state championship performance last year, and are looking to build on that success. This season, though the Eagles are young after losing key seniors, but they still went undefeated against conference opponents. And overall, they were able to finish out the season strong with only three losses. The Eagles first-place finish gave them a first round bye. The Eagles will take on the winner of the Butte Central Maroons and Livingston Rangers match up at 4 p.m. on Friday. The Belgrade Panthers had a decent season, but find themselves behind the Ponies and Eagles to round out the top teams in the Central A. Overall, it was a 10-9 season for the Panthers, but their 7-3 conference record kept them fighting for 2nd right up until the end of the regular season. Though the Ponies just beat them out, and the Panthers slid into third, they still have high hopes for this weekend. Though the Panthers record says they are athird-place team, other teams can’t let that fool them. They are a very tough team, and can get points in a hurry with their dominating performances from behind the service line. Players like Kristen Nelson have the ability to push teams back on their heals, and take advantage while they are off balance. The Panthers received a first round bye after the Ponies chose to play in the first around. Another team that will take advantage of the unsuspecting are the Maroons. They may have had a tough season with only five wins overall and three against conference opponents, but they are better than that shows. Don’t let their record get in the way of the fact that they are always going to come out and play hard. And defensively, year in and year out they are very strong. They like to run up-tempo sets, especially to the outside. The Maroons are looking for the match up against a solo block instead of having to face a double block, so the other teams height cant hurt them as much. Livingston has the same conference record as the Maroons at 3-7, but their overall 4-14 record hurt them. They are a relatively young team with only four seniors, and it shows. Also, they are at a height disadvantage against most teams they face. Although the are young, they do still have some talented athletes who can hit the ball very well. Rounding out the conference are the Browning Indians, who have yet to record a win this season. The Indians don’t have any big hitters, and they also lack ball control. But if overlooked, they can be dangerous with their placement. They try to beat you by pushing the ball over the net deep into the corner hoping to catch the defense out of place. Round one will take place on Friday. Match one will be Havre vs. Browning at 10 a.m., match two will be Butte Central vs. Livingston at 12 p.m., match three will be Belgrade vs. the winner of match one at 2 p.m. and Match four will be Lewistown vs. Winner of match two at 4 p.m. Friday's action concludes with loser-out matches at 6 and 8 p.m. The Ponies look like they have the talent to be the dominant team against many teams in their division. The only teams that look like they may give them some trouble this weekend would be the Eagles and the Panthers. During the regular season the Ponies were swept by the Eagles, and split their two matches with the Panthers. However, HHS does have experience in these situations with setter Sarah Blessum, hitters Karla Hellegaard and Mariah Armstrong all playing key roles on the HHS team that played so well in last year's postseason. The Ponies made a strong run to a third-place finish at the state tournament, and they pushed Lewistown in the Central A all year. If the Ponies are going to put themselves in that same position again this year, they will have to start with solid play in Butte. “Were just going to take it one match at a time, and one game at a time.” Huebsch said. “And hopefully our focus is good enough that we’re taking it one point at a time, and not looking ahead or thinking about what we’ve done in the past.” Last year, the Eagles took first, and the Ponies took second at the divisional tournament, and both of these teams have a shot at going one-two this year. “I am not saying second would be fine.” Huebsch said. “But our goal right now is go out and play our best volleyball and try to qualify for the state tournament one way or the other.” The Ponies get things started on Friday at 10 a.m. against the Indians in Butte. The Central A tourney runs through Saturday night at the MAC and the top two teams qualify for next week's state tourney in Bozeman.