The Havre High boys tennis program’s success goes back a long, long way. From the days of Dan Ferguson winning the school’s first individual state championship, through its run of six straight Class A state championships — with so many individual titles and great players and coaches mixed in.
And it’s not easy to keep that success going — but with the development of players as freshmen, that’s always been the secret to the Blue Ponies’ success. Havre doesn’t have a teaching professional or a country club or indoor courts like many other parts of Montana do. Instead, the program needs freshmen to come in, quickly learn the game, love it and keep playing it.
And there have been many great senior classes who’ve done just that over the last three decades at HHS, and this year’s seniors are no different.
On Sunday, five varsity HHS tennis players will graduate from HHS, but before they all do, three of them will play in their final tennis matches of their career's, at the Class A state tournament which gets under way today in Great Falls.
“It’s no secret what you need to be successful as a tennis team here,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “You need kids who are willing to learn, willing to fall in love with the game and willing to take instruction. Willing to work hard. That’s what we’ve always had, and I can go back to several key senior classes, both in my time and before me, that have really helped shape and mold our tennis program. Every kid that has come through this program is important to us, but it’s those certain groups of kids, who all come in together, that help make us have great teams. You need those big freshman classes every once and a while and, fortunately, we’ve had a bunch of them over the years.
“This group that is graduating this year is one of those big classes who’ve helped us maintain our success,” he added. “Justin Jensen, Brayden Grimson, Simon McCann, Blaine Grisak and Bill Wagner, as a group, they’ve been very important to us keeping our program where we’re used to it being. I don’t know where we’d be right now if it wasn’t for this senior class, and hopefully, we’ll start over with a great freshman class next year, to go along with all the great kids we have coming back next season.”
Jensen, Grimson and McCann are playing at the state tournament this week, while Grisak and Wagner’s seasons ended last week at the Central A Meet in Bozeman. All five are four-year varsity players, and all of them have contributed great things to HHS’s tennis program.
“It has been fun looking back at how much I have accomplished,” Jensen said. “Starting out, I wasn’t a tennis player, just an athlete trying it out. This sport is amazing and fun, and Ferg (Ferguson) has done a great job with the program. The practices and meets are all just fun.
“It has been great playing tennis, and I have really enjoyed it,” added McCann, who is playing in his first state tourney. “It is kind of one of those sports that once we really get into it, I am hooked for the three months and into summer.”
“It has been fun (being on varsity for four years),” said Grimson, who has went to three straight state tournaments. “When I started out I wasn’t much of a tennis player, but after a while, I found I really liked it. That made me play all summer long and really get better. When we were freshman, we graduated a lot of seniors, so I thought I had a shot at getting a top spot, so I really played a lot to get better.”
And through the years this senior class has gotten better and better. Grimson has a state medal from 2010 and two Central A doubles titles. Jensen, who won the Central A singles title last week, has placed three times at the Central A and also played in three straight state tournaments. Grisak has come within a few points of making the state tournament twice and will go on to play college tennis for Gwynned Mercy College in Pennsylvania. McCann is now a divisional champion and Wagner enjoyed a productive career, winning matches at divisionals in all of his seasons on varsity.
Together, the senior class also has three Central A team titles and a second-place finish at the 2010 state A tournament.
“It was great winning the divisional title, it made the end of my season a lot more sweet,” Grisak said. “If we wouldn’t have gotten the team title, it would have just felt like a waste of the season, the hard work wouldn’t have paid off.
“All of these guys are good players,” Grimson added. “Grisak is going to college to play, Simon is my partner and (Jensen) just won divisionals. We have all gotten pretty good, and I really like playing with these guys, it is always good experience playing with good players your own age.”
And while all five players have been monumental to Havre’s continued success — the Ponies have won 15 of the last 16 Central A titles, and had a string of state trophies that went for 13 consecutive seasons — many of them have work left to do. The trio of Jensen, McCann and Grimson all have a chance to do very well at state this week, while Grisak will move on to collegiate tennis. Wagner can also look back and certainly be proud of what he helped continue while at Havre High.
“Last year I should have done better at state, so this year I am kind of going back for revenge,” Jensen said “I want to really put my name out there as a tennis player.”
“The success has been nice,” McCann said. “It is good to see your hard work really pay off in the end, and it was great to get a divisional title this year, and now hopefully a state title also. I think that is very possible and this is our goal in the end. It is what we have been working for.
“(Being a four-year varsity player) has helped out a lot,” Grisak added. “I learned a lot every day and hopefully I can continue learning and do well at the college level.”
“The three guys going to state this week will do well, I have no doubt in my mind,” Ferguson said. “They have all become great tennis players and no matter what happens, they should look back on their tennis careers at Havre High and be very proud of the fact they continued the traditions we have here.
“I’m very proud of this entire senior class of boys,” Ferguson added. “We graduated some great, great players when they were freshman and sophomores and those guys left the program to this group. And over the last few years, this group has done a tremendous job of helping carry on Havre High tennis. We’re going to miss these five guys a lot. They’ve meant a great deal to our program and to Havre High in general. I’m just really proud of them and I’m thankful I had the opportunity to coach them the last four years.”
The 2012 Class A state tennis tournament gets under way today and runs through Friday afternoon at various sites around Great Falls.