By Jason Shoot
Havre enters this weekend's Central A divisional volleyball tournament the sixth seed, but a bit of good luck and the benefit of a home-court advantage could be exactly what lifts the Ponies to the state tournament.
The Central A is loaded with top-level teams this year, making the Ponies' attempt at a state berth just that more difficult.
Havre begins its run through the tournament against third-seeded Dillon Thursday at 4 p.m.
The following is a preview of the tourney with schools listed in order according to seeding in the event:
1. BELGRADE Rosie Meyn and Carly Pickthorn are the leaders offensively for the Panthers (10-0 league, 19-5 overall), and Mari Beitman poses a serious defensive threat for defensive opponents with her blocking and digging ability.
Meyn is third in the league in kills, averaging 3.15 kills per game, Pickthorn is second in assists with 7.8 per game, and Beitman is third in blocks with 0.7 per game.
Pickthorn is sixth in the league in aces (0.63 per game) and serve percentage (94.8), and Beitman ranks ninth in digs with 2.35 per game.
Belgrade, which opens with winless Browning in the first round, recently finished second at the Windy City Tournament in Livingston, dropping a 16-14, 15-10 decision to Billings Skyview in the final.
One of the victories in that tournament came at the expense of Fergus, the divisional tourney's second seed. Belgrade slammed the Eagles 15-7, 15-3 in the Windy City semis.
2. FERGUS Led by offensive juggernaut Lindsay Garcia, the Golden Eagles (9-1, 14-7) will begin the tournament against Anaconda.
Garcia is far and away the top kill-getter in the Central A, averaging 4.2 per game. By contrast, Dillon's Lynsey Monaco is a distant second behind Garcia with 3.7 kills per game.
Garcia is also fifth in the league in blocks with 0.53 per game.
Garcia provides Fergus with a go-to player up front, which certainly benefits setters Keely Jeide and Megan Berg, who are ranked sixth and eighth in the league in assists.
Jeide is ranked second in digs with 2.9 a game, and teammate Katie Edwards is third at 2.8.
3. DILLON The Beavers (7-3, 15-6) must take advantage of Monaco's presence at the net, but opponents must be wary of who feeds her the ball setter Lindsey Scott.
Scott leads the Central A in assists with just over nine per game.
Monaco also leads the league in blocks with one per game.
Ashley Stoddard (0.83) and Ashley Walker (0.68) are ranked second and fifth in the league in aces per game. Stoddard is a two-way threat, ranking fifth in kills with 2.7 per game.
4. LIVINGSTON Leanne Sudbeck and Lindsay Lyman provide the Rangers (6-4, 14-5) with a bonus few other teams in the league can boast talent across the net.
Sudbeck is fourth in the league in kills (3.13 per game) and second in blocks (0.97). Lyman is sixth in kills (2.73) and eighth in blocks (0.49).
Setter Teri Winfrey draws the responsibility of distributing the ball to her two big hitters, and she's demonstrated she can do just that. Winfrey is second in the league, averaging 7.8 assists a game.
Paced by Winfrey and Stephanie Hannon, the Rangers are the top serving team in the Central A with a 93.5 serving percentage. Winfrey is rated first in serve percentage (98.4) and third in aces (0.72), and Hannon is third in percentage (96.1) and fourth in aces (0.71).
5. BUTTE CENTRAL The biggest questions facing the Maroons (4-6, 6-13) are: 1) Where is the offense going to come from? and 2) Can this team serve well consistently for the entire tournament?
Butte Central does not have a single player ranked in the Central A's top 10 in kills, yet setter Aimee Stagnoli is still fifth in the league in assists with 5.12 per game.
The Maroons are also seventh in the league in serve percentage at a paltry 86.7 percent. Liz Henrich is second in the league at 96.6 percent, but the team does not have anyone else ranked in the top 10 in serving.
Megan Gleason is fourth in blocks with 0.65 per game, and Ciana Roeber is eighth in digs with 2.35 per game.
6. HAVRE The Ponies (3-7, 9-13) must also find some offense if they intend to give opponents trouble, but the Windy City Tournament provided the team with a boost of confidence.
Havre earned a hard-fought victory over Butte Central at that tournament with a 16-14, 12-15, 15-12 win in the Ponies' first match.
The Ponies were eliminated 15-6, 15-5 by Livingston later in the tournament, but even that showed improvement over the two teams' meeting earlier in the week. Havre managed just two points in Livingston's 15-0, 15-0, 15-2 sweep over the Ponies.
Setters Samantha Velk (4.7 assists per game) and Laura Hedstrom (2.4) are each ranked in the top 10 in assists, and Amy Ranes averages 0.5 blocks a game.
LaShae Michels will also play an important role for Havre. Michels is the top back-row player for the Ponies with 2.35 digs a game, but she also serves the ball well at 94 percent.
Velk also serves at a 94 percent success rate for Havre, which is ranked second in serving among Central A schools at 90.2 percent.
7. ANACONDA Averaging 7.4 assists a game, setter Tegan Gates does an admirable spreading the ball around to her teammates.
Yates's favorite target this season has been Kelli Phillip, who leads the Copperheads (1-9, 4-16) in kills with 2.5 per game. Phillip leads the Central A with 0.85 aces per game.
Anaconda is a team that also must improve its serving in order to advance through the tournament. The Copperheads' serving percentage is just 86.8, sixth in the league.
The Copperheads have stability in the back row led by Sara Blaskovich, who is first in the league in digs with 3.2 per game. Abya Graa is seventh in the league with 2.5 digs a game.
8. BROWNING The Indians (0-10, 0-17) have not tasted victory this year and come into the Central A tournament reeling from a very difficult stretch.
Livingston nearly earned a shutout win over the Indians with a 15-0, 15-0, 15-1 victory last week, and Browning got no sympathy from Belgrade in the Panthers' 15-0, 15-4, 15-4 win.
Browning was then ousted from the single-elimination Windy City Tournament with a 15-5, 15-6 loss to Anaconda in the first round.