It isn't clear just what kind of season the Havre High boys basketball team is going to be able to turn in this year. It won’t be an easy one right out of the gate, but with a lot of young talent, and a new head coach in former Havre Blue Pony Curt Leeds, HHS is remaining optimistic.
The Central A Ponies will open the season with two of the tougher teams on their schedule. Friday they will face the defending Cl
ass B state champion Malta Mustangs in Malta, while on Saturday, the Ponies will host the Class AA CMR Rustlers at the Havre High gymnasium at 5 p.m.
It will be a tough way to start a new season, especially when trying to build off of last year’s successes.
Last season, under coach Andy Smith, the Ponies were able to come on strong late in the season. They ended the regular season with a 4-4 conference record, and finished the regular season as the No. 3 seed heading into divisionals. They made a solid run at the divisional tournament in Great Falls, and even finished as the No. 3 team once again. But the Ponies' hopes of a state berth were cut short, as Browning defeated Livingston in the championship game, eliminating the possibility for a challenge game for Havre High.
This season, the Ponies will look to make another run, but new head coach Leeds knows it is going to be a tough battle moving forward.
“We are making some changes,” Leeds said. “So a lot of things we are doing are new from the last several years. It is going to be a constant learning experience this year though, and we are going to have to go through our ups and downs. But the main thing is that they all have positive attitudes, and are willing to learn. Our intensity in practice has been very good, and everybody is working very hard. The wanting to learn is there and that is always important.”
Ryan Brandt, Logan Conner, and Brandon Smith vacate the roster from last season, and take the majority of the Ponies’ scoring with them. But all is not lost, as the Ponies return two key varsity starters in senior Thurman Holdsclaw and junior Kade Rismon. Holdsclaw was an Honorable Mention All-Conference player last season and is coming off of a very impressive All-Conference and All-State football season.
But senior Ramsey Drew, junior Brian Smith, and freshman Dane Warp are also showing great promise already, and are already being looked at to carry a big portion of the varsity load. Other key contributors will be Spencer Ross, Kody Hickman, Jase Kato, Michael Bakke, Wyatt Lindbloom (transfer from Utah), and Nate Rismon, while the rest of the varsity/junior varsity roster is made up of Jon Faber, Alec Drew, Jamie Lieberg, Noah Landgraf, Rocky Kuhr, Dakota Christianson and Michael Compton.
“I think this team, like the football team has a chance to get there (top of the pack),” Leeds said. “It isn’t going to take one individual, it is going to take all five guys on the floor understanding their jobs, and playing to their strengths.
“We want to get to Christmas break and really be able to see where we have improved and learned.” Leeds added. “From there, we can really see where we can get, and what we need to change and adjust. I think we will have a more up and down season this year, and even though we have four seniors, we are younger. But Christmas break is where we really grow and learn as a team, and that is where we should really be able to see what and where we can go this season.”
Browning and Belgrade should be the early Central A favorites, while Livingston isn’t too far behind. Lewistown is down this season, while the Ponies could fall anywhere in that mix, just depending on how they execute down the stretch. But with a very tough non-conference schedule also awaiting the Ponies, they may have bumpy patches here and there, but they should also do a lot of improving and growing up.
Alongside CMR and Malta, the Ponies will also face teams like Conrad and Shelby, two teams that can be dangerous on any given night.
“You always want to play tough competition,” Leeds said. “And playing our schedule just makes us better, including Class B champion Malta, and Class AA CMR who is always in the hunt for a state title. We also play two conference road games in Belgrade and Livingston and go to Great Falls High before Christmas break, so that is as tough as stretch as you can get.”
Offensively the Ponies will run an option offense, while also pushing the tempo. If the Ponies can’t score inside, they have to be ready and able to knock down shots from outside or mid-range. And on defense, the Ponies are going to force teams to beat them with jump shots, not easy buckets in the paint. Drew has the ability to attack the basket for the Ponies, while Smith should find success from the perimeter. Holdsclaw is most dangerous when he attacks the basket, utilizing his strength, speed, and athleticism, while Warp and Kade Rismon will hopefully give the Ponies a dominating inside presence.
“We are going to push the ball up the floor,” Leeds said. “And we are going to try to get the ball inside first. But from there, we need to be able to work our motion. We are going to sprint the ball up the floor and if we have a layup we are going to take it, but if we don’t, we will work our offense. And I have a very strict style of defense, and we have really worked and focused on those concepts.”
On Friday, the Ponies will face the Mustangs in Malta, and on Saturday, the Ponies will face the Rustlers of CMR.