Daniel Horton Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The seven Havre High players which went to Kalispell for Thursday and Friday's Class A state tennis tournament knew the odds were stacked against them in the team competition. Or did they? Despite not having the depth which other teams in the girls and boys field had last weekend, the Blue Ponies turned in one of the most successful state tournament's in school history. The Havre High girls used a perfect run in doubles to catapult the Blue Ponies to their second Class A state championship in school history, as juniors Hayley Donovan and Courtney Kinholt beat teammates Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf 6-4, 7-5 in the doubles championship match. The doubles performance was enough to give the Ponies 29 points and the state title. And they even made more history as Kinholt and Donovan became the first girls doubles champion from Havre in school history. "Indescribable," HHS head coach George Ferguson said. "Those four girls played the tournament of their lives and they were rewarded with a state championship. It is something that I can hardly put into words right now. I'm just really proud of them, and more importantly, happy for all of them. They deserve this success." Not to be outdone, the three HHS boys which represented the Blue Ponies made a valiant run at a state title of their own. Behind a state championship in doubles from Kyle Miller and Mason Sheppard, as well as a third-place finish in singles from senior Shane Kemmer, the Ponies scored 26 points with just three players and finished a close second to state champion Billings Central. The Rams, with nine players in the tournament, finished with 31 points. "I couldn't be more proud of the boys team," Ferguson said. "We had a plan, we knew what we had going in and that was three of the best overall players in the tournament. Not very many people thought we could do what we did, but our kids and this coaching staff knew it wasn't about numbers for us. We only lost one match the entire tournament. Those three guys played the best tennis of their lives and I just couldn't be more proud of all three of them." The Havre girls beat Billings Central by two points, while Libby was third with 19 points behind state champion singles player Jackie Mee. On the boys side, Whitefish finished third with 21 points as senior Matt Harris captured the boys singles championship. The girls doubles championship was spectacular, as was the team title. Donovan and Kinholt cruised through the first day of competition and on Friday morning, avenged one of their few losses of the season by thumping an undefeated team from Dillon in the semifinals. Meanwhile, McCann and Landgraf, who placed third at divisionals, had to survive two three-set matches on the opening day before dispatching the No. 1 seeded team from the Eastern A from Billings Central in the semifinals, setting up the all-Havre final. "I can't really tell you much about the championship match," Ferguson said. "I know it was a good and competitive match because it always is when those four play each other. That's a big part of why we did what we did, they push each other in practice every day, and they've been doing it since they were freshmen. But as coaches, you don't get involved in a match like the state final because all your thinking is, we have both our doubles teams playing for the state title, and we're going to win a team title because of it. We weren't pulling for either team, we were just happy that we dominated the tournament the way we did. And it was exciting to know that either way, we were going to win our first state doubles championship in girls history. "And at the end of the day, I am just really happy for both teams," he added. "They had the kind of success that players only dream about. It was truly a special day for Havre High tennis because of the four girls we took to state." Donovan and Kinholt and McCann and Landgraf became just the second and third Pony teams to ever reach a state final in doubles. In 2006, the duo of Alexa Lipp and Karissa Olson finished second in doubles. Meanwhile, the Blue Pony boys made plenty of noise of their own even with just three players in the field. Miller and Sheppard cruised through the first day of the doubles, and then became the ninth straight HHS doubles team to reach the state final when they beat Corvallis' Levi Pauly and Jake Sangster in straight sets in the semifi- nals. Despite making the finals seemingly every year, HHS hadn't captured a boys doubles title since 2006, and the 2009 championship wasn't going to be easy. Miller and Sheppard beat Columbia Falls' seniors Grant Getts and Jake Ronish 6-4 in the opening set, but then fell behind the duo by dropping the second set 6-3, and eventually being down 4-2 in a third-set tiebreaker. But the Havre duo wasn't to be denied and they reeled off five straight points to take the match and the state championship. "It was one of the best matches of the tournament," Ferguson said. "It doesn't get any closer than a third-set tiebreaker for the state championship. So that just goes to show what kind of team Kyle and Mason are. They showed poise and a lot of heart, and they earned a state championship. I couldn't be happier for both of them. Kyle got so close last year and Mason is a senior who has been with us for four years, so it was pretty special to watch both of them reach their ultimate goal." And in singles, no player brought more excitement to the state tournament than Kemmer. He reached the quarterfinals where he was upset in straight sets by the big serve of Bigfork's Scott Taylor. However, he rebounded to win four straight matches to finish third, including playing two straight three-setters on Friday. Fittingly, Kemmer knocked off Taylor in a three-set thriller in the consolation match, his last of what was a brilliant four-year career at HHS. "I'm just so proud of Shane," Ferguson said. "He was a warrior for us in this tournament. He just refused to quit, and it means so much to us for him to get on the medal stand. He's been one of the best singles players in Montana for a long time now, but boys singles is the toughest draw of them all and he never ducked anything or anybody. I just couldn't be more proud of him and he went out a winner." In all, HHS recorded just two losses on the boys and girls side throughout the two-day tourney, and one of those was due to one Havre team playing another. The Ponies nearly maxed out on possible points, and with a state championship and a second-place trophy, they proved that the state tournament can be about more than just numbers and depth. "It was an amazing weekend," Ferguson said. "All of the things these kids accomplished, it's just unreal. To think that every player we took to state medaled, it just goes to show you how good of tennis players these seven kids are, and it's a credit to them and how much they've worked for this. As a coach, you just couldn't ask for anything more."