After a weekend off from regular competition, the Havre High tennis teams will get back at it today in Great Falls. The Blue Pony boys and girls are in the Electric City for three duals, including a pair against Class AA competition.
This morning, the Ponies will face off against former Central A rival Butte Central. Then they will take on the Great Falls High Bison at 1 p.m. and the CMR Rustlers at 4.
Havre may have had this past weekend off from regular season tournaments, but the Blue Ponies still got plenty of court time. On Saturday, HHS split teams and held a boys and a girls college-style dual, where players played both singles and doubles matches. Challenges matches were also included, while the Ponies finished the day with a team barbeque and some mixed doubles.
“Saturday was a productive and fun day,” Havre High head coach George Ferguson said. “We have an open date on our schedule, so we use that date to still get some competition in, but we do it in a little different manner than we do during the regular season. We also use that day to remain together, build team bonds and just have some fun. The weather was great, all of the kids played well and played hard and everybody had fun. That’s what Saturday was all about.
“And now we are into the stretch run of our season,” he added. “The three duals we play in Great Falls on Tuesday will be very important for our kids. Obviously, today, and through the next two weeks, we are playing mostly Class AA competition, so our opponents are going to be more formidable than we’ve seen thus far. But that’s good for us. It’s good to have those challenges, and playing better players makes all of our players better. So this is an exciting time of the year for us.”
HHS will take 12 boys and 12 girls to Great Falls today, and to this weekend’s Great Falls Invitational. Class AA varsity teams are composed of four doubles teams while Class A only has three doubles teams on each roster. So Ferguson added that even more of his players will benefit from this week’s matches.
Making up the HHS boys roster is top singles players Justin Jensen, Brayden Grimson, Ned Malone and Bill Wagner. The doubles teams Tuesday will be Simon McCann and Blaine Grisak, Nick Rhines and Zach Hellegaard, J.J. Hovet and Brian Smith and Jacob Holden and Noah Landgraf.
“I think we have made a lot of progress in singles on our boys team,” Ferguson said. “Justin is playing at the level we expected him to at this time of year, and Ned Malone and Bill Wagner really gives us good players at the bottom end of our lineup. The transition to singles has gone pretty well for Brayden. He’s a traditional doubles player with his big serve and his excellent net game. But he’s also an outstanding athlete and that’s allowed him to make this transition. This is a big week for him because he’s going to face a lot of good competition, and making the switch from doubles to singles, that’s exactly what he needs, just a lot more matches.”
Havre’s girls lineup will see top singles players Brandy Lambourne and Lainey Chagnon, joined by Shannon Herring and freshman Tatianna Ralph. Jennifer Cichosz and Jade McCormick lead the doubles group, which also includes Breck Don and Ellery Bresler, Haley Graham and Morgan Jappe and Rylee Valdez and Dani Jeffery.
“We have a young girls team, but they are improving dramatically,” Ferguson said. “This next few weeks won’t be easy by any means. There is going to be some very strong competition. But again, for the future of this team, it will be very good for all of them.
“In doubles, Jade and Jenn have paved the way and helped create a strong atmosphere for our team, and that has really made our sophomore doubles teams so much stronger. And we have really good depth in singles. Lainey, Brandy and Shannon have all improved every week, and Tatianna Ralph is having an excellent first season. So I am really excited about where our girls team is at right now.”
As for today’s competition in Great Falls, Ferguson noted that while the most important thing is making sure everyone plays well and improves, it’s also getting to be that time of year where he wants to see his players take bigger strides, even against tougher Class AA competition like the Bison and Rustlers.
“Both Great Falls’ teams are traditionally strong,” Ferguson said. “But I think in most areas our kids match up well and if we play to our capabilities, they should be good duals.
“The main right now is, we need to be moving forward. We need to get better in match situations,” he added. “We’ve really worked hard on the fundamentals of tennis this season and we will continue to do so. But this is the time of year when what happens in matches becomes key. We need to learn as we go and apply those things the next time out, so that when divisional rolls around, we are at our very best.”
Havre and Lewistown will take on Butte Central this morning at the CMR Tennis Courts in Great Falls. The afternoon matches against GFH and CMR will have the Pony boys at the newly constructed Riverside Courts, while the HHS girls will play at the Meadowlark Country Club.