The Havre High volleyball team has a very busy and important weekend ahead.
Playing three conference opponents in two days to end the regular season, the Blue Ponies have a lot on their plate. And sitting in the No. 2 spot just behind the No. 1 Lewistown Golden Eagles (7-1), the Ponies' (6-2) finish in the conference will all depend on how they do in these last three matches.
Tonight at the Havre High gymnasium, the Central A Ponies will host the Eagles at 7. And on Saturday, the Ponies will host the Belgrade Panthers at 12:30 p.m. as well as the Livingston Rangers at 3: 30 p.m. Saturday is also senior night for the Blue Ponies, and will take place in between the Belgrade and Livingston matches.
“These games are so important,” Havre head coach Melanie Skoyen said. “We are playing three good teams and we are anxious, this is what we have been waiting for.”
The Ponies are a young squad, but have played well all year. And though HHS has just two seniors on the roster this season, they are a big reason why the Ponies have found such success.
Christina Mack and Paighton Gilman have done a good job leading the Ponies this season, both vocally and with their actions on the court.
“When Paighton (Gilman) is playing,” Skoyen said. “There is just a difference and a presence when she is on the court. She is really good about getting everybody going and making sure we are pumped up no matter who we are playing. The girls just feed off of her so much.
“Christina (Mack) is more of the silent leader and I know everyone looks up to her,” Skoyen added. “I respect her so much because she treats the freshman just like she would another senior. She is just a team player and is so positive to everybody.”
Their leadership has gotten the Ponies through their season thus far, and will also be key for this final regular season weekend.
Sitting at 6-2, the Ponies have put themselves in good position heading into the divisional tournament. So far, they have earned the No. 2 spot, but if they wish to remain there or to even overtake the Eagles for the top spot, they have to find a way to win, especially tonight.
In September the Eagles defeated the Ponies in three games. If the Ponies can find a way to beat the Eagles in three games, then win out their season, they stand a chance of taking the No. 1 spot in the division.
“Our girls are pumped to play (Lewistown),” Skoyen said. “And we have been waiting for this moment. Hopefully we will be able to shine (tonight). Our level of play is so much better than the last time we played them and now having Paighton (Gilman) back and playing so well, I am very excited about the outcome against Lewistown.”
Having Gilman back in the lineup will greatly improve the Ponies chances of earning a win tonight. With Gilman being out, the Ponies were left with a big hole in the middle. Juletta Don and Sarah Armstrong did a nice job filling in, but Gilman brings that much needed leadership and experience to the table every match. Gilman is back in the middle, and Don is hitting from the right side, giving the Ponies another weapon along with the always hard-hitting Sammy Evans.
The ability to block well is going to be key for the Ponies. Earlier in the season it was the Ponies' serve-receive that troubled them, but that has been made over and is now the Ponies' strength. At this point in the season, HHS has to close its block and Skoyen said as of late, that is what has been making or breaking the team’s success.
But the Ponies' blocking isn’t going to just be a factor tonight against the Eagles. If the Ponies want to win any of their three conference matchups this weekend, their ability to block is going to be huge.
The Panthers and Rangers have tough squads. And though the Ponies earned wins over both squads in early September, they know they have a very tough Saturday in store.
“Both Belgrade and Livingston are good teams,” Skoyen said. “And though we beat them both before I think they may have been overlooking us. I think both of them will come out pretty strong against us and we are going to have to play well to beat them. It wont be an easy win and I think we are going to have to play one of our better games to beat either team.”
Both squads have been playing very well in recent weeks and Skoyen thinks they could both be peaking at the right time. The Ponies are going to have to be aware of talent from both teams. The Rangers’ Johanna Chapel who had 14 kills against the Ponies in their first meeting, and Tory Mjardvik who had five of the team's 10 blocks. And for the Panthers, they totaled 26 kills against the Ponies, with Lidnsey Halgren and Jorden Porter both totaling seven each.
But no matter who the Ponies play, HHS isn’t worried. They are excited to play, and confident they can find a way to get things done this weekend.
Tonight the Ponies will host the Eagles at 7 at the HHS gymnasium. And on Saturday, the Ponies will host the Panthers at 12:30 p.m. as well as the Rangers at 3: 30 p.m. in Havre.