It’s been hard for the Havre High tennis teams to catch a break with the weather as of late.
And Friday and Saturday in Helena, the Blue Ponies will be hoping for just that. The Helena Invitational is the toughest tournament Havre will attend all season, and it’s also one of just two tune-ups left on the Ponies’ schedule before the Central A Divisiona
l meet May 17-18 in Bozeman.
Havre had last weekend’s Great Falls Invitational completely rained out, and the Ponies also have missed the season-opening Cut Bank Invitational as well. The Havre Invite had to be moved from a Saturday to a Monday, or that meet would have disappeared with bad weather as well. So the importance of the Helena Invite and next weekend’s Lewistown Invitational are not lost on veteran head coach George Ferguson.
“As of right now, we’ve only competed in 40 percent of our scheduled matches,” Ferguson said. “That’s been tough because our kids have been practicing, every single day in pretty bad conditions, and to not be rewarded with being able to play the meets on the weekends, that’s a pretty tough deal. And of course, missing those matches also hurts us as far as the progress we’re trying to make.
“I’ve been really proud of the way our kids have handled the weather problems,” he added. “They still show up and work hard every single day and I’m really proud of them for that.”
Helena is slated to see some shaky weather as well with plenty of rain in the forecast. Hopefully though, the Ponies will get to play as the tournament is second to none in regular season Montana tennis.
The Helena Invite features all 13 Class AA schools as well as Havre, Livingston and the Dillon girls. The tournament is a bracket format with separate brackets for No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 singles, as well as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 doubles on both the boys and girls sides. And with all of the powerful AA teams in attendance, Ferguson said there is no better competition for his teams.
“We cherish being able to play in this tournament,” Ferguson said. “Every bracket is filled with top-level competition, but it also matches kids up fairly evenly. So it’s a great two days of tennis where every match our kids play will make them better in the long run. And over the years, we’ve done quite well down there, and we have always held our own the AA players.”
As for HHS’s lineup, Ferguson has made some adjustments to both teams.
The Pony boys will see Justin Jensen at No. 1 singles, Blaine Grisak at No. 2 singles and Ned Malone at No. 3. Senior Brayden Grimson will move and team up with fellow senior Simon McCann at No. 1 doubles, while Zach Hellegaard and Nick Rhines will remain at No. 2. J.J. Hovet and Bill Wagner will play No. 3 doubles this week, before Wagner returns to singles and Hovet goes back to teaming up with Brian Smith in doubles.
“We are looking to strengthen our team for the divisional tournament,” Ferguson said. “And with Blaine being such a versatile player, it won’t be a difficult transition moving him back to singles. He’s pretty comfortable there. We’re going to try this lineup this weekend and see where we’re at when everything is done because when we go to Lewistown next week, that will be our divisional lineup.”
On the girls side, Ferguson has also shaken things up a bit. For the Helena tourney, junior Lainey Chagnon will move and play No. 1 doubles with Jennifer Cichosz while Jade McCormick will move to No. 2 singles. Brandy Lambourne is Havre’s No. 1 singles player and Shannon Herring is No. 3. Breck Don and Ellery Bresler and Haley Graham and Morgan Jappe will be No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, respectively.
“Same thing on the girls side,” Ferguson said. “We want to put together the strongest team we can for the divisional tournament so we’re looking at some different things this week in Helena. We have some versatile girls players who can play both singles and doubles so we’ll look to see what fits the best.
“The tough thing about the Helena tourney is, you have to leave one varsity player at home,” he added. “That’s a tough deal because you wish all your kids could play in this event. But that’s part of the format and we’ll deal with that. And then those two kids will be back in the lineup next week.”
One thing is for certain, if the weather cooperates, the 18 Ponies who make the trip to Helena will be tested in ways they haven’t been yet during this difficult season. The competition will be as fierce as ever and Ferguson says that this time of year, there’s nothing better than that.
“Basically, it’s almost like us moving up and playing in the Class AA state tournament,” Ferguson said. “That’s how difficult the level of competition down there is. But it’s a lot of fun for our kids and normally they all rise to the challenge and play better than they ever have before. And that’s all we’re looking for this weekend.
“And regardless of the competition, we need the matches,” he added. “With the four duals we lost out on last weekend in Great Falls, as well as the ones we would have played back in March in Cut Bank, each player is probably seven to ten matches short of where they would be had nothing been cancelled. So we really need this weekend, and we’re hoping the weather lets us have it.”
The Helena Invitational begins at 9 a.m. Friday morning and runs through Saturday afternoon.