There may only be four, but the Havre Blue Pony tennis teams are taking some serious firepower to Great Falls for the 2012 Class A state tennis tournament.
Three Blue Pony senior boys and one HHS girls will compete in this week’s state tournament, which gets underway Thursday morning at various sites around Great Falls. And despite the short-handed numbers, Blue Pony head coach George Ferguson is excited about his team’s chances this week.
“Just very proud of the kids who are making the trip,” Ferguson said. “They all deserve to be here. They all earned their way into this tournament. And they all are very good players. Now, they’ve given themselves the opportunity to see how far they can take this season.
“So yes, we might not impress anybody with numbers,” he added. “But we’ve been in this position before. We’ve scored 27 points with three boys and we’ve won a state championship with four girls. So these kids can score plenty of points this weekend. We may not possess the quantity that other team’s do, but we’re bring quality to Great Falls for sure.”
Havre is bringing three veteran boys to the state tournament in seniors Justin Jensen, Brayden Grimson and Simon McCann.
Jensen is making his third straight appearance at the state tourney in singles, and in his last outing, he’ll come in as a top seed and the Central A champion. In his prior two state tourneys, Jensen has made plenty of noise going 3-4 in two years. And Ferguson said he has a chance to do very well over the next two days.
“Just in has come a long way from even when he qualified as a sophomore,” Ferguson said. “Now, he’s one of the top singles players in Class A. He knows it and so does everybody else. The competition is tough in singles, but Justin is as tough and as competitive as they come, and he’s got the game to do very well in this tournament.”
In singles, Jensen will be up against the likes of Billings Central freshman phenom Dillon Myer, as well as singles favorite Mitchell Decker of Corvallis. Hardin’s Rusty Brushia is another top contender as is Stevensville’s James Enzler and Polson’s Brady Hislop. Jensen opens the state tourney with a player from Libby who is the No. 4 seed from the Northwest Division.
As experienced as Jensen is in singles, Grimson is the same in doubles. He’ll be making his third straight appearance in doubles and his second as a Central A champ and top seed. Grimson, who placed sixth at the state tournament as a sophomore with Danny Roe, is teamed with McCann, who’s making his first trip to the state meet. Still, McCann has played varsity doubles since his freshman year, and together, they proved to be a force by easily winning the Central A this past weekend, and helping the Ponies to a team title in the process.
Boys doubles will be tough this week, with a heavily favored team from Corvallis leading the way. There are also strong teams from Glendive, Hardin, Butte Central and Whitefish in the field. Still, Grimson and McCann certainly have what it takes to compete with anybody in the state. Grimson and McCann open with the No. 1 team from Stevensville, which is the No. 4 seed from the Southwest A.
“Those two played lights out tennis in Bozeman (Central A),” Ferguson said. “Actually it started the week before in Lewistown. They are on a roll and it’s a testament to how strong they both are at doubles and how hard they’ve worked. Brayden is an excellent all-around tennis player, but he’s definitely a doubles specialist. Individually, he’s one of the best doubles players in Class A. Simon is a natural at doubles too, and he’s worked very hard to get to where he is. He’s put in a lot of effort with his serve and with his net game and I couldn’t be more impressed with what he’s done. I’m already really proud of what they’ve accomplished together in a short amount of time, and I think the sky is limit for them.”
As for Havre’s chances in the team race, Ferguson isn’t counting his boys team out. Corvallis has won two straight team titles, while the Ponies’ streak of 14 consecutive years with a trophy came to an end last year in Great Falls. Glendive is perhaps the deepest team, while Billings Central, Polson and Hardin can all score points.
“I think with the numbers from each team, the scoring is going to be spread out,” Ferguson said. “You’re not going to see a team score 40 or 50 points this week. So that gives our boys a great chance to get in the mix. But we’re not, and have never looked ahead and tried to figure out what we need. Instead, we just worry about the first around. That’s it. Our three guys are all very capable players. I’m very proud of everything they’ve already done in their careers in Havre. So now, it’s just one last time to go out and play match by match. I know these guys, they’ll leave it on the court. They’re passionate about the game and about Havre tennis. So they will do special things this weekend. That much I know.”
Havre High sophomore Brandy Lambourne will be the lone wolf on the girls side for the Ponies. And it isn’t out of the question for Lambourne to score big this weekend. She placed third at the Central A meet last week in Bozeman, and she’s grown by leaps and bounds as a player this season. She’ll be in a tough draw with the likes of defending state champion Mary Cronwell of Hamilton, former state champ Morgan Opp of Glendive, as well as Central A rival Macy Ricketts of Livingston.
But despite being in the underdog role, Ferguson is confident Lambourne will play well and turn some heads this week in Great Falls. She faces Glendive’s No. 2 singles player. She is the No. 2 seed from the Eastern A.
“Wow. That’s all you can really say about what Brandy has achieved with her game already,” Ferguson said. “She didn’t even start playing tennis until April of last year and here she is, getting ready to play in the state tournament a year later. Brandy is such a tough competitor. She works extremely hard and she wants to make every shot. She wants to win every point. She doesn’t take a point off and she is a bulldog out there. Those characteristics make her a very tough out for somebody in singles. And with her drive and determination and with what a hard worker she is, she is just going to keep getting better and better.
“And this experience will be a great one for her,” he added. “We wish we had more girls going with us, and we had several who got really close and who are all good enough to be in this tournament. But we have them all coming back and we’ll certainly build off what Brandy does this week in Great Falls. It will be great for her and great for our entire girls team going into next season. It’s a really exciting time for her for sure.”
The last time the Ponies only took one girl to state, that one brought a trophy home. In 2007, Katie Mariani placed second in singles and earned a third-place trophy for the Ponies all by herself. With strong teams like Glendive, defending champion Livingston and 2012 favorite Hamilton, Ferguson isn’t expecting Lambourne to repeat what Mariani accomplished five years ago, but he does see similarities in the two and he’s excited about what Lambourne can do this week and beyond.
“Brandy is just going to get better and better,” Ferguson said. “She showed that just at divisional last week. She is a natural tennis player. She’s a gifted athlete and she’s very mentally tough. Those things are going to carry her far with her tennis career.
“So this weekend is going to be a special one for all four of our kids,” he added. “It’s really just the beginning for Brandy, and it’s the last tournament for three great seniors. And I have the utmost confidence that all four of them will play their very best and give themselves a chance to do some great things over the next two days.”
The 2012 Class A state tournament begins Thursday morning at the CMR, Elks Riverside Park and Meadowlark Country Club courts in Great Falls. The tourney runs through Friday afternoon.