The Havre High tennis teams have already had a busy week. And the Blue Ponies are in the toughest portion of their 2011 schedule.
But on Friday and Saturday, HHS will face competition that few HHS tennis teams have ever seen before in the regular season. On Friday, the Ponies will trek to Corvallis where they’ll play two days worth of tough tennis against the likes of the host Blue Devils, Hamilton Broncs, Whitefish Bulldogs and others. That action includes participating in Saturday’s Bitterroot Invitational.
This weekend is normally the weekend of the Great Falls Invitational, a meet that usually pits the Ponies against stiff Class AA competition. But because of Great Falls’ court-renovation project falling short this spring, Havre, Cut Bank and Conrad were left out of the meet for this season. So the Ponies found a new venue and head coach George Ferguson said he couldn’t be more excited for his teams.
“This next two days will be as good as it gets for us in the regular season,” Ferguson said. “Because of weather and now this court situation, we haven’t been to the Great Falls tournament in four years, so getting into this deal in Corvallis is very exciting.
“We’re going to see some of the best individual players in Class tennis, we’ll see the Corvallis boys who are the best team in Class A boys tennis and the Hamilton girls, who are probably the deepest girls team in Class A. We’ll see different competition than we’re used to seeing, so everything about this trip will be good for us. It will be a good test for our top, veteran players, and it will be an extremely valuable experience for all of our young players and newcomers who are making the trip.”
Weather permitting, the Ponies could dual as many as three times on Friday, although that is unclear. Havre should play Corvallis and possibly Whitefish on Friday, and maybe a third opponent. On Saturday, the Ponies will compete in the Bitterroot Invite, which is a tournament jointly hosted by Corvallis, Hamilton and Stevensville. The Bitterroot meet is set up as a round-robin affair with all No.1’s grouped together, No. 2’s, No. 3’s and No. 4’s, so each player or doubles team will get several matches against opponents of the same rating.
The Bitterroot Invitational will feature full teams Corvallis, Stevensville, Hamilton, Butte Central Whitefish and the Blue Ponies, as well as girls teams from Dillon, Anaconda and Darby. The Missoula Hellgate boys JV team is also slated to attend. So no matter who Havre players are pitted against, the Ponies will see action against teams and players they rarely see during the regular season.
“That’s the really exciting part,” Ferguson noted. “The teams that are there, we just don’t have a chance to play too often. It’s been four years since we last saw Whitefish in the regular season, and we have never had the opportunity to play any of the Southwest A schools and we don’t even see them before the state tournament.
“But I think more importantly, it gives all of our kids the chance to really find out how much they’ve improved and where they stand, because especially this season, this weekend in Corvallis will be the best of the best in Class A. So it’s a really good thing for us to be involved with this trip.”
And Havre is looking to find out just where it stands as the postseason slowly draws closer. The Pony boys team has suffered several injuries which have resulted in them struggling in duals this season. But Ferguson said he thinks his team can still come together and be ready to compete for hardware in three weeks at the Central A Divisional.
“Our boys team has really had to learn on the go,” Ferguson said. “Our lineup at times isn’t necessarily what we thought it would be back in February, but we have young players who are stepping up and really learning. Trey Brown, Ned Malone, Zach Hellegaard, Nick Rhines and Jacob Holden are all younger players who are doing a really good job of learning how to play the game, and that learning process will certainly continue this weekend in Corvallis. But I do think, especially with what we’ll get out of this weekend, we can still be a strong postseason tournament team.”
Havre’s boys lineup for this weekend will include the return of junior Justin Jensen at No. 1 singles. Jensen missed the last week, but is back in the HHS lineup this weekend. Blaine Grisak will play the No. 2 spot, while freshmen Malone and Hellegaard round out the singles roster. In doubles, Keenan Dolezal and Brayden Grimson will play No. 1, Nick Rhines and Billy Wagner will be No. 2, Brown and Simon McCann will play No. 3 and Holden and J.J. Hovet will play No. 4.
The Pony girls lineup will feature seniors Christina Mack and Danielle Faechner at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in singles, respectively. Steadily improving sophomore Lainey Chagnon will play No. 3 and veteran senior Teresa Buerkle will play No. 4. The sophomore tandem of Jennifer Cichosz and Jade McCormick remain at No. 1 in doubles, while Ellery Bresler and Brandy Lambourne will play No. 2. Kirsten Keller and freshman Haley Graham will play No. 3 and freshmen Shannon Herring and Morgan Jappe will play the No. 4 spot.
“We have a lot of young players on our girls team who will get some great experience this weekend,” Ferguson said. “We have a lot of freshman who have made huge strides from March 13 until now, and this trip to Corvallis will make them even better, not just for the rest of the season, but well into the future, so for them, this meet couldn’t have come at a better time.
“For our veteran kids, like Christina Mack, Danielle Faechner and Teresa Buerkle, as well as our No. 1 doubles team, this is a great test for them,” he added. “Those girls are trying to get their game into the best shape possible for the postseason, and with the players they’ll see this weekend, that process will certainly continue. So I’m really excited about the progress our girls team has made, and I’m excited to see how they do this weekend.”
Havre is scheduled to start play at approximately 12:30 p.m. on
Friday in Corvallis. Saturday’s Bitterroot Invitational will be split
up into three locations on Saturday. The Ponies’ 1-2’s on the girls
side will play in Corvallis, the 1-2’s boys will play in Stevensville
and both the 3-4’s will play in Hamilton.