Update at 11:02 p.m. Friday: Ponies' trip to Cut Bank cancelled due to weather.
After a not-so-long and unusual winter, the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams are back on the court for another season.
“It’s exciting to get back to tennis,” ninth-year HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “In particular, we have a lot of kids back this year who have a wealth of experience. So as a whole, we’re ahead of where we would be at this time of year when we might have had less experienced teams.
“Still, this first meet is all about just gaining experience,” he added. “We’re not looking at winning as the ultimate goal right now, we’re just looking to knock the rust off, gain valuable match experience and go from there. It’s a long season and right now, we’re just starting the building process.”
The Blue Pony boys enter 2012 with a senior-heavy team. Havre’s string of 14 straight state tournament trophies ended last spring in Great Falls, but the Ponies did capture the Central A title for the 15th time in the last 16 years.
HHS is led by seniors Justin Jensen, Brayden Grimson, Simon McCann, Blaine Grisak and Bill Wagner, all of whom have played varsity at one time or another for three straight years. Fellow senior John Gardipee could also impact the Pony roster.
Also back from last year’s divisional championship team is junior Nick Rhines and sophomores Ned Malone and Zach Hellegaard. That gives the Ponies a solid nucleus to work with, while the likes of Jacob Holden, J.J. Hovet and Brian Smith also return with experience. Ferguson also expects big things right away from freshmen like Tyrell Pierce and Noah Landgraf, both of whom come to the Ponies with prior tennis experience.
“We have a lot of senior leadership on our boys team,” Ferguson said. “And that group is very talented and has a lot of experience. All of them have played varsity for a long time. But we also have some solid youth to mix in as well. We have four freshman boys we're looking at to help us now, and down the road, and overall, I think our depth is one of our strengths.
“I think our boys team has a lot of potential,” he added. “But right now, the main thing is, finding who should play where and what the best fits are for our team. That’s a process that will take time. But these guys have all been looking very sharp so far in practice and I think they can only get better as the season goes along.”
While the Blue Pony boys are a senior-oriented team, the Havre girls will enter the 2012 season with no seniors. And Ferguson says that’s not a bad thing at all. And while HHS is considered a young team grade-wise, he says this team has a ton of potential to be very good in the very near future.
“Our girls team is interesting because we don’t have any seniors, but we still have a group of kids with a lot of varsity experience,” Ferguson said. “That’s exciting because we know this particular group is going to be together for two more years. We had a strong freshmen class last year and we have another really good group of freshmen out this season. If we can get another good group from this year’s eighth grade class, we can really continue to build our girls team into something special.
“But I’m really excited about the team we have right now,” he added. “We had a doubles team who went to state last year as sophomores, and we have a great group of younger players to go with them. And the mix of kids we have, we will be strong in both doubles and singles. We haven’t had this much depth on our girls team in quite some time so that’s very exciting.”
The No. 1 doubles team Ferguson mentioned is juniors Jennifer Cichosz and Jade McCormick, who placed fourth at the Central A last year and helped the Ponies take third in a tough divisional. Havre also returns junior singles player Lainey Chagnon, who has had made great strides from last year, as well as sophomore Brandy Lambourne, who also played a full year of varsity as a freshman.
Another doubles team also returns intact in sophomores Ellery Bresler and Breck Don, while sophomores Haley Graham, Shannon Herring and Morgan Jappe all have a season of experience to boot. Bolstering the future of the HHS girls program are a group of newcomers in Tatianna Ralph, Rylee Valdez, Paige Schwartz, Megan Passon, Julie Kadrmas and Dani Jeffrey.
“The kids have all been working really hard and we’re just hoping the weather continues to cooperate,” Ferguson said. “As for this first meet, again, it’s all about getting match experience, about getting court time. For some, it’s about getting back in the groove after not playing tennis for six months and for others, it’s a huge learning experience. We just want to use this weekend in Cut Bank to see where we’re at and where we need to go from there.
“As a whole, I’m really excited about this season,” he added. “I like both our teams a lot. They are good kids. Very fun to coach and I think on top of all of that, both these teams have a lot of potential to be very strong come May. So that’s really exciting.”
Havre will head to the Cut Bank Invitational on Saturday. The Ponies have their only home meet on April 7 when they host the Havre Invitational. The Central A Divisional is set for May 17-19 in Livingston/Bozeman and the Class A state tournament will be held May 24-25 in Great Falls.