By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Spring has ushered in the tennis season and two teams that look to return state-caliber players from last year.
"Both the boys and the girls are strong," said head coach Sam Dierman.
Defending state champion, senior Kellen Malone, looks to be strong again this year. In addition to Havre High athletics, Malone was a member of the 1999 USTA Sectional Championship Team in August. His team won the championship, finishing with a record of 21-4.
Senior Nick Heninger placed fourth at state in doubles last year, but he could look to play singles this season.
Sophomores Seth Maristuen and Michael Frey both competed at state as freshman and have returned a lot stronger, Dierman said.
Sophomore Terrence Wells made the divisional team last year and looks to compete well this season.
"He is one of the hardest workers on the team," Dierman said.
Senior Levi LaPrath and junior Tyler Croft also look good in the early season, Dierman said.
"Through swimming, Tyler has been able to get really strong," he said. Croft helped lead the Blue Ponies' swim team to a state title in February.
The boys' team boasts nine freshmen, six of whom have had lessons in the offseason.
"They are going to get good experience this year," Dierman said.
The Ponies, who lost five seniors to graduation last year, boast 20 boys on the roster, and 10 will make the varsity cut.
"We have been strong over the past nine years," Dierman said. "It is a really, really solid program." The Ponies have placed at state five times during those years.
The goals for the boys include winning the conference title and finished in the top three at state.
The girls' roster returns 11 letter-winners from last year's team, who captured the first-place divisional crown and placed in the top six at state.
"I have never had seven seniors before in tennis," Dierman said, referring to Nichole Borst, Crystal Heggen, Kirsten Kuka, Lauren Malone, Jana McPherson, Teri Sherrill, and Tiffany Shrauger.
"They are leaders in everything, whether it is basketball, volleyball, or cheerleading. I couldn't ask for a finer group of seniors."
Three juniors Nikki Baltrusch, Breyon Briese, Samantha Velk are on the roster, while 18 sophomores and juniors are on the squad.
"Having 14 freshman girls will help the team eventually," Dierman said. "They are very smart and most all of them have had lessons before."
Sherrill, who was also a member of the USTA Sectional Tennis Team with Malone, finished third at state in singles last season. Kuka also brings some state experience to the team.
This season, the girls want to challenge Livingston, a powerhouse team who won both the divisional and state crown and has returned everybody to the team, Dierman said.
"We want to narrow the gap and hopefully overtake them," he added.
Both the boys and the girls will travel to the Cut Bank Invitational on Saturday for their first competition of the year.