Blue Pony girls take one final shot in tennis
The Havre High girls tennis team has seen its most successful run in school history the last decade.
In fact, when the Blue Ponies finished fourth at the Class A state meet a year ago in Billings, it was their lowest finish in the last eight years. And while graduation and participation seemed to effect the downward trend from when the Ponies captured a coveted state championship just three years ago, they come into the 2011 Class A state tournament with a renewed vigor.
Havre qualified just three girls for the state meet, which starts Thursday morning in Great Falls. But numbers aren’t telling the whole story. HHS has had a strong rebuilding season as over the last three years, the Ponies have had to deal with the loss of state champion singles players Katie Mariani and two of the most successful doubles teams in school history in Courtney Kinholt and Hayley Donovan and Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf.
“I think this season has been a really good one for our girls team,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “We had a high number of freshman out for the team this year, and overall we were a young team which came a long way from March 13 until now. We’ve also had great leadership from three great seniors, so in my mind, this season has already been a big success.”
And the season isn’t over, at least for senior Christina Mack and sophomores Jade McCormick and Jennifer Cichosz.
Mack returns to the state tournament for the second time, and she’s been Havre’s No. 1 singles player for three years. She didn’t win a match last season at the state tourney, but Ferguson said things could be different this time around. Still, the going will be tough as Mack, who finished fourth at last weekend’s Central A meet, is set to face defending Class A state champion Morgan Opp of Glendive in Thursday’s opening round.
“I can’t say enough about what Christina Mack has done for our program,” Ferguson said. “She has played No. 1 since she was a sophomore, she had to follow the greatest singles player the school has ever had, and she has had to face a ton of adversity. But she’s done it all with a great attitude and hard work, and she’s been a joy to coach. She’s made all of her teammates better and she’s the reason we have been able to maintain our girls program at this level.
“So I’m really excited about getting to watch her play one more week,” he added. “And she’s had a really good season. She’s beaten some very good players this year and she will not be an easy match for anybody in the draw this week. I’m just really proud of Christina and I think she’s going to play very well in Great Falls.”
While making is making her last stand as a Blue Pony tennis player, the doubles team of Cichosz and McCormick are just getting started. They had one year to learn from Havre’s great foursome, but now have moved all the way up to the No. 1 spot. And they already took a giant step when they ousted a senior Lewistown squad to make the state tournament last weekend in Bozeman. Now, Ferguson says it’s about taking yet another step towards the ultimate goal of becoming a dominant doubles team, like HHS has grown accustomed to having over the years.
“Jade and Jen have come light years from where they started, not just as freshman but even at the beginning of this season,” Ferguson said. “They are definitely starting to learn how to play the game of doubles effectively and it showed last weekend in Bozeman.
“They have had it tough this year because being our No. 1, they are facing great competition and older teams every time they step out on the court,” he added. “But it’s paying off now, and they have a bright, bright future ahead of them. This week will be a whole new experience for them, but it will also be something that makes them that much better for next year and beyond. So I’m not only excited about the fact that they’ve gotten this far as sophomores, but I’m really excited to see how they do this weekend and what it does for their future.”
As the No. 4 seed out of the Central A, McCormick and Cichosz drew the No. 1 seed from the Northwest in Marissa Getts and Lexie Bartkoski of Columbia Falls.
As for the trophy hunt, Havre has an uphill battle. Hamilton comes in as a heavy favorite this weekend, but defending champion Glendive also brings a strong and deep team to Great Falls. Central A champion Livingston as well as Northwest A champion Polson could also have something to say about the team title race.
“This is a talented girls state tournament from top to bottom,” Ferguson said. “But we’re not counting ourselves out of anything. But trophies are not what we concern ourselves with going in. We worry about one match, even one point at a time and we’ll see where we’re at on Friday.
“I’m just excited for our three girls,” he added. “Playing in a state tournament is as good as it gets in our sport, and these kids have earned that opportunity. And I know they’ll go out and make the most of it this weekend.”
The 2011 Class A state tennis tournament will get under way at 8 a.m. Thursday morning and run through Friday afternoon, weather permitting. The meet will be played at CMR High School and at Meadowlark Country Club.