By Tiffany L. Rehbein
There's a first time for everything.
And the Havre Blue Pony boys' tennis team had waited a long time for this first time.
"Hopefully, it won't be the last," Havre head coach Sam Dierman said. "The boys have been outstanding all year. They got what they deserved."
The Ponies claimed their first-ever State A tennis title, while the Pony girls finished second, the highest finish that they have ever enjoyed.
"Overall, it was a remarkable finish to a season," Dierman said.
The boys finished with 28 points, two ahead of Miles City, who finished the tournament with 26 points. Bigfork and Hamilton tied with 19.
The girls finished with 18 points and were outdistanced by two-time defending champion Livingston, who won with 41 points. Stevensville placed third with 13 points.
No. 1 boys' singles' player Kellen Malone won his second-straight individual gold.
"I'm the only one that's ever done it at Havre High School and that feels pretty good to me," Malone said. "It was a dream come true."
The senior was the first Blue Pony to win back-to-back state individual titles.
"Kellen capped off an outstanding career," Dierman said. "He will be impossible to replace."
Malone went 4-0, defeating Sean O'Daniels of Miles City 7-5, 6-1 in the championship match.
"I thought it was a lot harder than it was last year," Malone said about his back-to-back state titles. "Everybody was after me and there was a lot of pressure to win."
Malone cited the championship match against O'Daniels as the most difficult. The two met last season in the semifinal match, with Malone coming out on top.
"He was tougher this year," Malone said. "He was stronger. He's got a better serve and he just gets everything back. He covers the court really well and he had a lot of long points."
However, Malone's seasoned forehand kept O'Daniels in check.
"I controlled most of the points with my forehand," Malone said. "It was definitely the key to winning."
Malone, who is looking at playing tennis at either MSU-Billings, Eastern Washington, or St. Mary's University in Minnesota, said the greatest accomplishment was the team title.
"It feels pretty good to be on it when you're a senior," Malone said. "We always wanted to be state champions and it feels pretty good. I thought that was the top accomplishment."
During the past 10 years, the Ponies have placed second three times, third twice, and fifth three times.
"We had taken second place a few times and always blew it," Malone said. "It was a relief to finally win one. It felt good."
Malone credited coaches Dierman, Nate Dorcheus, and Sarah Keller for the Ponies' success.
"Without them, I don't think it would have been possible," Malone said. "They helped us out when we were down. They got our heads up. That's pretty much what won it for us was our coaches. I give them a lot of credit for that."
The No. 1 girls' singles' player Teri Sherrill claimed her first-ever individual state crown. The senior was the first Blue Pony girl to ever be crowned state champion.
"Teri's hard work paid off," Dierman said. "She was incredible. Her determination would not allow her to accept defeat. She not only defeated the defending state champion in the semifinals, but she also defeated the girl who finished in second place (last season). As with Kellen, she is impossible to replace."
In doubles' action, senior Nick Heninger and sophomore Seth Maristuen placed third.
"Nick was so determined," Dierman said. "He gave up his singles game to play doubles with Seth so that the team would be stronger. It worked. His display of unselfishness is why we won the state championship. Seth will only improve and set a lot of records at Havre High School."
The two went 4-5 at the tournament, losing to Palmer and Sampson of Glendive in the semifinals.
However, they came back to defeat Sebastian Travis and Bud Kauffman 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 of Stevensville for third place.
In singles' play, sophomore Terrance Wells and freshman Cody McLain and, in doubles' play, the freshmen duo of Jeremy Heninger and Tyler Vincent each won one point. Those additional three points put the Ponies over the hump to edge Miles City for the title.
Wells and McLain each went 1-2 at state.
"Without their contributions, we would not have been state champions," Dierman said. "They will be back next year and be bigger contributors."
Malone agreed with his head coach.
"It was our freshman and sophomores Cody, Terrance, Jeremy, and Tyler they got three crucial points for us," Malone said. "If one of them would have not won a match, we would have lost. They were the core players who did it for us. Me and Nick (Heninger) and Seth (Maristuen) we were supposed to go a long way," Malone said. "Those four really did it for us. Without them, we wouldn't have done it. I think that the boys winning state is a lot bigger than me winning state two times in a row. The first state (team) title is definitely the biggest accomplishment I've ever made."
The doubles' team of Tyler Croft and Levi LaPrath did not win any matches at state.
"Levi finished a very good career at Havre High School," Dierman said about the senior. "Tyler will be back next year and will only get better."
The Park High Rangers claimed three of the top four doubles' spots to claim their second-straight state championship.
"I knew Livingston would take first," Dierman said. "I figured if they took away enough points from everyone, we would have a chance to sneak in. We didn't just sneak in, we grabbed that second place trophy."
Sherrill led the attack, going 4-0 at the tournament. She defeated Marie Woltanski of Stevensville 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the championship match.
"Personally, I didn't really have a reaction," Sherrill said. "I was just like, Wow.' I was kind of shocked in a way. I knew that it, that day, had to be now or never. After all the years of hard work and, in one day, it's over. It was pretty exciting. I had all my family there and there was no better time to do it."
Sherrill, who defeated not only last year's state champion, but also last year's runner-up finisher, said she might have been a surprise at the tournament.
"They knew about me, but I think they expected to play each other again," Sherrill said. "They weren't really expecting me to do what I did."
Patience proved to be the key to beating Woltanski in the final match.
"She likes to hit and make me make a mistake," Sherrill said. "I had to play the game smart."
Sherrill finished in the top 12 at state her freshman year and in the top eight her sophomore year. The lack of improvement between the two years drove her to work harder to achieve this goal during her senior season.
"There wasn't much improvement," Sherrill said about the finishes her first two years of high school competition. "Dierman was so mad at me. He gave me the biggest lecture. He told me that I had to put in the work. Every day he told me to do this extra stuff. I kind of followed what he said. I followed it and it's been unbelievable. I wouldn't have done anything without him pushing me."
Sherrill is currently in Cheney, Wash., visiting Eastern Washington University with a chance to play tennis.
"The only way you're going to win is if you do extra stuff and play," Sherrill said. "Thanks to Dierman, Kellen, and my dad because they were always there to work with. They were always there to hit with."
The doubles' team of Kirsten Kuka and Tiffany Shrauger went 2-2 at the tournament.
"The positive things that these two girls did over their careers in tennis is amazing," Dierman said about the seniors. "They've been outstanding leaders throughout their high school careers. I can't say enough about them except they will be sorely missed."
Crystal Heggen, a senior, went 0-2 at state.
"Crystal was fabulous this year," Dierman said. "Her work ethic every day in practice paid off. She will be hard to replace."
Final Team Scores
Livingston 41, Havre 18, Stevensville 13, Miles City 12, Hamilton 11, Dillon 9, Columbia Falls 4, Polson 4, Bigfork 4, Anaconda 3, Whitefish 3, Hardin 1, Glendive 1, Corvallis 1, Ronan 1.
Havre 28, Miles City 26, Hamilton 19, Bigfork 19, Glendive 19, Stevensville 9, Whitefish 5, Polson 4, Billings Central 2, Corvallis 1.
Singles Becky Fry, MC, def.Crystal Heggen, Hav, 6-3, 6-3; Teri Sherrill, Hav, def. Abbey Seykora, Har, 6-2, 6-3; Sherrill, Hav, def. Nichole Chaney, Ham, 6-4, 6-4; Cavanagh, CF, def. Heggen, Hav, 6-4, 6-0.
Doubles Fogel/McDonald, Dil, def. Kirsten Kuka/Tiffany Shrauger, Hav, 6-3, 6-3; Kuka/Shrauger, Hav, def. McMillin/Karls, Dil, 6-2, 6-1; Kuka/Shrauger, Hav, def. Hansen/LaMarche, MC, 7-6 (7-2) 6-1.
Singles Jim Chandler, Ham, def. Terrance Wells, Hav, 6-4, 6-3; Robert Behmke, Ham, def. Cody McLain, Hav, 6-4, 6-1; Kellen Malone, Hav, def. Grant Mullin, Ste, 6-3, 6-1; Malone, Hav, def. Averill, BF, 6-2, 6-2; Wells, Hav, def. Fey, WF, 7-6 (7-5) 4-6, 6-1; McLain, Hav, def. Matt Wade, MC