Daniel Horton Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The time has come for the Havre High School boys and girls tennis teams. Weather, snow, cold, rain, cancellations, highs and lows, the Blue Ponies have endured it all this season, just to get to this point. On Friday and Saturday in Lewistown, the Pony boys and girls will participate in the Central A divisional tournament, a setting HHS is accustomed to being in. The Pony boys are the 13-time defending Central A champions, while the HHS girls have won five of the last six Central A titles, including a one-point win over Livingston last year. However, the Pony teams heading to Lewistown this weekend are much different, and HHS head coach George Ferguson said that the divisional races should be closer than ever. "We are taking two good teams to Lewistown," Ferguson said. "But the team titles are really up for grabs this year. The boys side is close between us and Lewistown, and the girls side is really wide open. Lewistown, Livingston and us are all very close, so it's going to be a lot of fun to see how our kids perform, and how things shake out." Lewistown nearly knocked the HHS boys off their Central A pedestal last season. The Ponies edged the Eagles by one point. And Lewistown is the deeper and more experienced team this time around. The Havre boys are taking six players who have never played a postseason match. Havre's No. 2 and No. 3 doubles teams and its No. 3 and No. 4 singles players are all postseason newcomers. "We are a very young team," Ferguson said of the Pony boys. "We are very inexperienced at this level. But I like how far our younger players have come since the beginning of the season, and they might just surprise some people this weekend." Havre's youth includes the doubles teams of Jeremy and Justin Jensen and Zach Cichosz and Brayden Grimson, all first-year players. In singles, freshmen Blaine Grisak and William Wagner are also making their first trip to divisionals. But the Ponies also have some of the strongest players in the boys tournament to offset the inexperience. Senior Shane Kemmer is seeking a fourth straight trip to the Central A singles title match. Kemmer captured a Central A title back in 2007 and is a heavy favorite to do so again this season. And the team of Mason Sheppard and Kyle Miller is a strong contender in doubles. Sheppard, a senior is a four-year varsity player for the Ponies, while Miller captured a Central A title with the departed Todd Roe last season. In singles, sophomore Keenan Dolezal is also expected to contend to place this weekend. "I have a lot of confidence in our boys team," Ferguson said. "We've never had this much mix of youth and experience, and I think in the end, it will play out in our favor. But whatever happens, I'm just hoping we play our best this weekend. That's all you can really ask for." Meanwhile, the defending Central A champion Pony girls bring a host of veteran players into this year's tourney. In doubles, the teams of Courtney Kinholt and Hayley Donovan and Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf are all three-year teams, and they placed third and fourth a year ago, respectively. Senior Mikaela Lipp and junior Melissa Kittelson also have plenty of Central A experience and are certainly the strongest No. 3 team in the field this week. And while doubles is where the Havre girls plan on scoring plenty of points this weekend, the Pony singles players cannot be overlooked. Sophomores Christina Mack and Danielle Faechner have improved dramatically as the season has gone on, and junior Christina Plum scored points for the Ponies at last season's tourney and is making her third trip to the divisional tournament. Sophomore Teresa Buerkle rounds out the HHS singles lineup. "Our girls team is much like our boys in that we have a lot of youth, however its all in singles," Ferguson said. "But I'm really proud of how far all our singles players have come this season, especially playing a lot of older players all year. I am confident they are going to all score points for us this weekend, and I know at least one or two of them can place if they play well. "In doubles, we have the veteran teams this year," he added. "It hasn't been like that for us in some time. But all three of our doubles teams have had great seasons, and I'm confident that they all will be strong contenders this weekend." The Pony girls will be in a close battle with Livingston and Lewistown this weekend, while the HHS boys will also contend with the Eagles and Rangers. Butte Central and the Anaconda girls will also be in the field this weekend. The top four singles players in the boys and girls brackets, and the top four doubles teams from each draw will advance to the Class A state tournament May 21-22 in Kalispell. "This weekend will be a lot of fun," Ferguson said. "The divisional tournament is what these kids work for all year long, and our kids have all really worked hard this season to get to this point. They are ready, and now we just have to go out there and do our best, and we'll see how it all comes out in the end. "I am confident we can be divisional champions, both boys and girls," Ferguson added. "But things have to come together just right for that to happen. The main thing is that we play well, and hopefully we can get as many kids to state as possible. I just have a lot of confidence in our kids that they are going to play well this weekend. And hopefully it works out that way." The 2009 Central A divisional tennis tournament gets under way Friday morning and runs through Saturday afternoon in Lewistown.