By Jason Shoot
Havre track and field coach John Ita can picture his respective boys and girls squads making a run at Class A state titles this year, but how they do it is likely to differ drastically.
Ita considers both teams to be "incredibly strong," but the girls teams features experience across the board, and the boys team is exceptionally talented in the sprints.
"When I look at the girls' situation they have excellent talent in all seven team events," Ita said. "They can score anyplace, everywhere. They're going to get somebody (in the top five) in sprints, relays, distance, all over."
Senior Lashae Michels, who won the state triple jump title a year ago, is already off to a fast start this season, Ita said.
"Going off to Glasgow (last weekend) she jumped beyond my expectations," Ita said.
Ita said his athletes in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs are likely to help the girls secure a great deal of points.
"Distance is probably their biggest strength," Ita said. "We have a couple girls who will go and get a lot of points in the mile and two-mile. The girls' cross country team has handed us some excellent long-distance people."
Included among the distance runners is defending state champion Jen Peterson, who held off Colstrip's Eryn Beckman last year for the 3,200 title. Her effort included a furious rally that helped her surge from 16th place after the first lap to the first-place finish.
Ita also said he has experience coming back in the high jump and throwing events.
He expressed concern with the team's depth, but the easiest way to overcome that is to have superior athletes among the competitors you do have.
"We don't have a lot of depth, but what he do have is real quality," Ita said.
The boys team is loaded with blazing speed in the sprints, Ita said.
Ita first mentioned returning 100-meter state champion Steve Heberly, who accomplished a rarity when he claimed the title as a freshman.
"But he probably wouldn't have won if (Brent) Finneman ran, but (Finneman) was hurt and could only run in one race," Ita said. "Finneman decided to run in the 400 relay, and we won that, too."
The names of Havre's talented sprinting corps continued to roll off Ita's tongue.
"We've got Adam Landgraf, Tyler Sheppard, Jared Gabriel, the Roman brothers (Grant and Joey)," Ita said. "They're all back, and we're incredibly deep and strong."
Ita also said senior Brian Derosa and sophomore Joey Howland will give the Ponies a solid 1-2 punch as hurdlers.
Havre does, however, have some concerns that must be addressed if the Ponies expect to come back home from the state meet with hardware.
"We don't have a lot of numbers in throwing or jumping, and the people we do have are pretty young," Ita said. "We have one senior boys thrower (senior Matt Sasaki), and after that we have a lot of young people.
"In the jumps we have a lot of youth, and when you go to state you have to score those fifth- and sixth-place points in the throws and jumps. Sasaki and (Josh) Klebowski need to carry us (in their events). They're always going to have to be on."
Ita also received some discouraging news on junior Garrett Watson, a talented long-distance runner.
"Unfortunately we lost Watson to a hip flexor injury," Ita said, noting his return to the track is up in the air. "He'll be gone for a few weeks and maybe for the whole season."
Ita said he doesn't set goals such as winning the state title, but rather "to have as many athletes as I can at state and have them peaking at the right time," he said.
"It we win (state), great, but if we score a lot of points and don't win it, great," Ita continued. "Our goal is to have everybody ready for the big dance. All these meets get us ready for the big dance."
Goal is to have as many athletes as I can at state, and peaking at right time at state,. If we win it great, if we score a lot of points and don't win it, great. Goal is to have everybody ready for the big dance. All these other meets getting us ready for Big Dance.