If the Havre High boys basketball team wants to build on last years’ successes, they have a lot of ground to make up early on.
The Central A Blue Ponies are coming off of a decent season. They had two of the top offensive players in the Class A, and were two overtime divisional losses away from reaching the state tournament. And now with this season marking the start of a new season, a
younger, inexperienced team will look to build off of that success. Today the Central A Blue Ponies will take on the Class B Malta Mustangs in Malta. Saturday the Ponies will remain on the road when they face the Class AA CMR Rustlers in Great Falls.
But continuing to grow and succeed isn’t always easy. The Ponies lost a good group of seniors and welcome in a lot of young talent this season.
Anfernee Standing rock left a gaping hole in the offense, wile great support players like Drew Kafka, Ryan Myers, Kade Barsotti and Corderro Strickland will also be missed. Standing Rock had several games with 20 plus points and averaged 18 a game a year ago. Senior Logan Connor will also be missed for a good portion of the season. Connor also averaged 18 points per game last season and was turning out to be one of the top Class A players in the state. But after a knee injury over the summer, the earliest Connor could be expected back is late January.
“The hardest thing about those losses is that they all played unselfish basketball,” Havre High head coach Andy Smith said. “They all knew and played their roles, and I thought the team played very well together because they weren’t worried about where the credit went. They were a unique group and a very unselfish group.”
That same mentality is going to be key this season. The Ponies are very well rounded offensively, and defensively, and can’t rely on one individual to carry the load.
Seniors Ryan Brandt, Brandon Smith, and junior Thurman Holdsclaw and sophomore Kade Rismon earned the most key minutes on varsity last season, with Smith a returning starter. But Rydell Ruff, Justin Jensen, Ramsey Drew and Tyson Kultgen will also make an impact this season. Brandt and Smith give the Ponies some key outside shooting, while Brandt can also penetrate the paint with his speed. Holdsclaw and Rismon will take on the post roles, and what they lack in real big height, they make up for in hustle and strength.
“We can’t relay on just one guy a night,” Smith said. “I would say 80 percent of our offense went through Logan Connor and Anfernee Standing Rock. And finding new guys to step up offensively means a whole new group. As a coach, that is my biggest question mark right now, who is going to contribute? We need production from everybody, whoever is on the floor has to contribute.”
But the Ponies aren’t just focused on their offensive production. Defense is going to be a big part of the Ponies game plan each and every night, as they can’t afford to get caught in too many shootouts.
That will be key this weekend with the Mustangs and Rustlers housing some very good talent this season. The Mustangs may not have Dane Stiles anymore, but they return Kendall Denham who is quickly growing as one of the top Class B players around. And for the Rustlers, coming out of the Class AA, they are always tough. The Ponies are going to have to stop a lot of weapons, including 6-2 senior guard Luke Stenzel and 6-5 senior power forward Russ Morin. The Rustlers have a lot of experience this season, housing four seniors and six juniors.
HHS will heavily rely on their pressure defense this season, and it will get a true test this weekend with two explosive teams.
“If we are going to be in these games,” Smith said. “It has to be because of tough defense, the kids know that and have bought into it. We aren’t overly big, but we have been doing some different things defensively, different presses and different traps. We have been mixing it up more than we ever have because we know we will need those extra wrinkles.”