A state tournament berth is the goal for every prep basketball team at the start of a new season. Once there, the new goal becomes to win a state title, a task the Havre High girls basketball team has a shot at accomplishing for the first time since the 1997 season when the Blue Ponies knocked off Dillon 62-43 in the Class A state championship game.
Jump ahead to the 2013 season, and the Central A Ponies (13-7) can hopefully find similar results this weekend at the Butte Civic Center in Butte.
Havre High earned its second consecutive Central A title last weekend in Great Falls. The Ponies earned a No. 1 seed, and will now face Stevensville, the No. 2 seed out of the Southwest in the first round of the Class A state basketball tournament. The tournament runs today through Saturday, with the Ponies and Yellowjackets tipping off tonight at 8 p.m.
“The kids are fired up,” Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. “And we are playing pretty good basketball, just as everybody in the Class A is at this point. It is interesting, this may be the first time in a very long time that every team in the state tournament is coming off of a win, either winning the championship or winning the challenge game. That is neat I think, so every team must feel good about their chances, I know we do. The kids played well last week (at divisionals), so now we are just excited to get back out there and play Stevensville. We are excited about the opportunity.”
With a win tonight, the Ponies will move onto a Friday matchup against the winner of today’s Frenchtown/Laurel game. If the Ponies lose tonight, they will fall into the loser-out bracket and face the loser of the Frenchtown/Laurel matchup on Friday at 2 p.m.
But the Ponies aren’t looking ahead to future, or possible matchups, as they have to first get past a very talented Yellowjackets squad. Stevensville can run a couple of different looks against the Ponies, and they aren’t a team the Ponies have kept close tabs on during the season. But quickly doing their research, the Ponies do know they have a solid team with standout talent. Alycia Sims averaged nearly 19 points and more than nine rebounds per game this season. And Kyla Paulsen averages over nine points and another seven rebounds per game for the Yellowjackets.
The Yellowjackets also average over 42 points per game, and entered the postseason very hot, riding a six-game win streak to end the regular season.
“They (Jackets) have a really nice group of role players that start with those two girls,” Kraske said. “They play well and we are going to have our hands full. But every team is good at state and we are looking forward to playing some nice teams.”
With that said, the Ponies aren’t changing their game plan, and they aren’t too concerned with the opposition’s game plan this week. The Ponies have found a lot of success this season and they know that if they keep executing their style at a high level, they can continue to find success at the state tournament. And after playing a very tough schedule this season, the Ponies feel they are prepared for any style they see this weekend. The Ponies played teams like Great Falls High, Malta, Conrad, and of course, Browning, all teams that will play in state tournaments across Montana.
“Our schedule is very good, and I think that has built us up to a position where we can be very good,” Kraske said. “We have faced a variety of teams, but it is important for us to continue to play well in how we play. We aren’t going to change who we are for the state tournament because what we have been doing has made us very successful. Subtle changes to improvement is the biggest thing.
“Our big thing is that we want to keep things going as best as we can,” Kraske added. “But we are still striving to get better even though our last couple of games were very good because there are always areas you can improve on. Basketball is a game of mistakes and we want to correct the little things as we prepare to play Stevensville.”
A win over Stevensville would be a big step for the Ponies. They have found success at the state level in the past, but want to avoid the 0-2 results they found last season. The Ponies lost to eventual state champion Billings Central and Polson last season.
“Last year I feel like we were just content with being good at divisionals, and winning divisional,” Havre High junior guard Peyton Filius said. “But this year we are looking forward to state, and really working hard at getting better every day. We need to bring our best every single game, no matter who we play.
“We need to carry the momentum forward from this (divisional) weekend,” Junior guard and teammate Brandy Lambourne added. “We will keep working hard and just let it carry us forward. We need to play like we have been playing, but I think it will be important to work more on our boxing out and our fouls. We want to make sure we keep our hands off and not get into foul trouble.”
Billings Central, Columbia Falls, Butte Central, Browning, Frenchtown and Laurel will also be competing for a state title this week. The Ponies could run up against any of those teams after getting past Stevensville, so they have to be ready to continue their high level of play. At divisionals, the Ponies may have played their best games of the season. They earned dominating wins over Livingston and Browning to solidify a No. 1 seed, and did so by playing fundamental basketball. The HHS defense held steady, as it has all season, while the Ponies have also begun to hit their stride passing very well, making great cuts, playing outstanding defense, rebounding, valuing every possession, and to top it off, knocking down shots from all areas of the floor.
Filius, at almost 13 points per game, and Lambourne, at nearly 10 points per game led the Ponies all season long with their offensive production. But Morgan Mazurkiewicz averaged seven, and Neya Bischoff averaged six for a well-rounded core of scoring. But if the Ponies can score like they did last weekend, they will be very tough to stop. In two wins last weekend, Lambourne averaged 13 points per game, Mazurkiewicz averaged 14 points per game, Lacey Waid averaged over 12 points per game and Filius averaged 12 points per game, showing they can score inside and out.
If the Ponies score like that this week, Lambourne likes the teams’ chances.
“We would be almost unstoppable,” Lambourne said. “We would be so tough to stop by any defense. And I think we do (have what it takes to win a title), honestly I do. We all want it so bad right now, and if we keep playing like every game is our last, we can win it.”
Havre High opens up its state tournament play tonight at 8 when the Ponies face Stevensville at the Butte Civic Center in Butte.
Class A State
12:30 p.m. — Billings Central vs. Columbia Falls, first round
2 p.m. — Butte Central vs. Browning, first round
6:30 p.m. — Frenchtown vs. Laurel, first round
8 p.m. — Havre vs. Stevensville, first round.
Follow the Blue Pony girls all weekend with the Havre Daily News