By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Could anything be more exciting than a seven-senior deep volleyball team with back-to-back State Class A championships under its belt?
Maybe the upcoming season.
"These girls have a lot of varsity experience," said head coach Bill Huebsch. "They know what I expect of them offensively and defensively. It is nice to be around kids who know how you want things done, and why you want them that way."
The Havre Blue Ponies, the State Class A volleyball champions in 1998 and 1999 are coming off a phenomenal 29-2 overall record, with top titles in the Central A and state last season.
Senior Erin Patera, an outside hitter, is a two-time all-state and all-conference selection and a three-year letter-winner for the Ponies.
Last season, Patera was the No. 1 passer for the Blue Ponies, collecting 335 digs, and she was the No. 1 serve receiver with an 83 percent accuracy.
She was also the No. 1 ace-getter, with 62 on the season. She was No. 2 in kills with 261. She was No. 4 in blocks with 43, and served 92.8 percent on average throughout the season.
"She is one of the most fundamentally-sound players I have ever run across," Huebsch said.
Not far behind is senior Tiffany Shrauger. Shrauger, with her power serve, managed 90.8 percent last season from behind the line. She was the third-ranked Blue Pony with 280 digs on the year. As a defensive specialist, Shrauger had 41 kills, the highest of a non-hitter on the team.
At serve receive, Shrauger was second on the team with a 73 percent passing accuracy. She was on the heels of Patera in aces, with 61 on the season, good for the second-highest on the team.
"She is a great back row player," Huebsch said. "She has a tremendous serve that causes a lot of problems for other teams."
Jana McPherson, an outside hitter, was the third-ranked assist-getter last season, collecting 25 on the year. McPherson served 86.7 last season for the Ponies.
"She is a born leader," Huebsch said. "She plays anywhere that I ask her."
Lisa Wagner was the No. 2 server on last year's team, behind the power of her float serve. She served 96.9 percent on the season. She also had 57 aces, the third-highest on the team.
Wagner, the back-up setter last year, had 85 assists for the Ponies. She was the fourth-ranked Pony with 212 digs.
"She has a lot of experience," Huebsch said. "She is a solid passer, and has a great float serve."
Teri Sherrill, at defensive specialist, was a constant off the bench last season. Sherrill got some experience at both the divisional and state tournaments.
"I expect her to be a sparkplug coming off the bench," Huebsch said. "She did a great job last year when she was moved up to the tournament team."
Kristen Kuka also looks to set, with Wagner, this season. Kuka trained her hands on the junior varsity squad last season in preparation for her senior year.
"She is an athletic setter," Huebsch said. "She should be able to do lots of things for us."
Terra Olson, a senior outside hitter, looks to come off the bench strong.
"She hits the line well," Huebsch said. "She hits consistently and is a real nice option to have."
Juniors Nikki Grant and LaShae Michels, and sophomores Jeri Matter, Amy Ranes, and Jayla McPherson also highlight the roster.
"All of them come to practice ready to work hard," Huebsch said. "They are good kids with a great attitude."
With four girls standing at 5-foot-10, in Grant, Matter, Ranes and Jayla McPherson, Huebsch is looking at implementing a new offense to utilize the height.
"We are probably taller, on average, than any team I have ever coached here," Huebsch said. He is in his ninth year at Havre High. "We have a lot of net presence this year. With this offense we are trying to run, we should potentially have two of those girls in the front at one time."
The Ponies lost four seniors to graduation, but the experience the current Blue Pony seniors bring to the program is the team's greatest strength.
"We have a ton of really, really nice options," Huebsch said. "We can put somebody in and they are not going to miss a beat."
During the past four years, Havre has accumulated a 37-3 conference record. During the past two years, the Ponies have gone 10-0 in conference play, and won the state title.
The Ponies travel to Dillon in opening-weekend action Friday and Saturday.
Havre will open the season with two conference matches against the Dillon Beavers at 4 p.m. Friday. At 5:30 p.m., the Blue Ponies will take on the Belgrade Panthers. Both are in the Southern Division of the Central A.
Saturday, the Central A Extravaganza begins at 9 a.m. Havre, Lewistown, Browning, Livingston, Dillon, Butte Central, Anaconda, and Belgrade will be at the tournament.
Havre, Belgrade, Butte Central and Anaconda are in Pool A, while the others are in Pool B. Each team will play one game to 15, or 25 minutes, whichever comes first.
Lewistown and Dillon are always tough in the conference. Belgrade has a new coach, while Livingston, who finished third in the division last year, returned the nucleus of its team.
Tournament seeding on Saturday will be based on pool play. The tournament will have each team playing the best 2-of-3 games to 15 points.
Last year, the Ponies, who never finished less than second place, won the tournament.
"If we can control the ball somewhat defensively, and serve receive well, we should be all right," Huebsch said. "Our goal is to go undefeated in the conference again. I wouldn't set those goals if I didn't think we could achieve them."