Last season, the Havre High girls basketball team was crowned regular season champions and Central A Divisional champions en route to the Class A state tournament. Now, headed into the first weekend of conference play, the Blue Ponies will try to take steps toward defending their conference crown.
A week ago, the Ponies opened the season with nonconference losses to Malta and CMR. But headed into their second weekend of competition, the Ponies are preparing for two conference opponents on the road. HHS will face the Beldrage Panthers to
night in Belgrade and the Livingston Rangers in Livingston Saturday. The Ponies defeated the Panthers in the Central A title game last season.
“I think we have a little more sense of urgency in practice since we are playing two games that mean something,” Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. “As far as getting prepared for the divisional tournament at the end of February. This week has been good, the kids are focused and ready to play two pretty good basketball teams.”
And the Ponies are preparing to face two pretty different programs.
The Panthers are known for playing a very high-tempo offense, they love to shoot, and they can hit shots from all areas of the floor. Dylan Fowler will continue to lead the offense, while players like Tanna Holliday look solid early. And on defense, they love to get in team’s faces and press the ball.
The Rangers on the other hand, should slow things down against HHS. Livingston has a new head coach, and so far, the Rangers have run a lot more 2-3 zone than they have in seasons past. The offense is more of a mystery to the Ponies, but Megan Shoenen and Mariel Kelley look to be the biggest threats thus far. Shoenen put up 15 points against Butte Central and is averaging over 13 a game this season. Kelley leads the team with 11 rebounds through their first two games.
“That is who Belgrade is as a program,” Kraske said. “And we are preparing for a team that is going to do those things well, so we have to handle the pressure and maybe play a little quicker. But our team is quick too, so we should be able to play fine in a game with a high tempo.
“We are kind of preparing for two different styles of teams,” Kraske added. “Belgrade being more up tempo, and Livingston being more slow. All that means for us is that we will do what we do, read them, and make any necessary adjustments. It isn’t going to take away from the fact that we want to push the ball up the floor, get the easy baskets and shoot when open. We just have to handle the different styles, and our kids have to realize that the shot they take needs to be the best shot for our team at that moment.”
Learning from two road losses last weekend, the Ponies know they have to play better moving forward. Peyton Filius, Brandy Lambourne and Neya Bischoff played well and paced the offense, but the whole team needs to continue to step up. And rebounding better on defense and taking care of the ball should be two things that could be difference makers.
“We go through stretches of very good offensive basketball,” Kraske said. “And then we go through stretches where we don’t have the same enthusiasm to be aggressive scorers. We have focused more this week on being sure of ourselves and what we are doing. Things like passing with two hands, catching with two hands, shoot when you are open, getting to the basket with confidence and not worrying about making mistakes. That has been our focus, we have confidence in each other, so let’s go play.”
The Ponies will play two conference games on the road, facing the Panthers tonight and the Rangers Saturday afternoon. HHS makes its home debut next Thursday against GFH.