By Jason Shoot
When Havre's boys tennis team staked its first-ever state tennis title last year, much of the credit had to go to Kellen Malone, who earned his second consecutive singles title.
Additional credit had to go to Nick Heninger, who was one-half of a doubles team that placed fourth last year.
But both those standouts have since graduated, and Ponies coach Sam Dierman is seeking for athletes ready to fill those shoes.
"We lost two kids awful valuable," Dierman said.
The Ponies do have eight of 11 athletes returning from last year's state championship team, which Dierman considers "quite a good nucleus."
The team includes senior Tyler Croft, whom Dierman considers a "good leader who always works hard. Tyler has a good overall game."
Dierman said the team leadership comes from juniors Seth Marstuen, who teamed with Heninger in doubles last year, Mike Frey, Terrence Wells and Andrew McLain.
Dierman said the squad is extremely well-balanced, but with that comes some a healthy dose of both good and bad.
"If we played a singles tournament with those eight, I couldn't predict who would win," Dierman said. "That's good except to win state you have to have one person who places first or second. I don't know if we can quite do that this year."
Dierman's girls team, which finished second at state last year, is also suffering from the loss of a superstar in departed state singles champion Teri Sherrill.
"The girls are real young, but the thing I like is that they're working so hard," Dierman said. "They're outworking the guys right now. If you get to work, you see good results."
Dierman mentioned three girls in particular Brianne Briese, Nikki Baltrusch and Samantha Velk who have made his life much easier.
"We had some freshmen who had never practiced with me, and those (three) girls are saying, Let's hustle. Let's get to the courts,' " Dierman said. "The girls hustle because their leadership may be better than mine in some situations. And those three always work the hardest in practice."
Dierman is ready to see his girls team face some competition on the courts.
"I'm real excited about how they might do because the team's not expected to do much this year," Dierman said. "We lost seven of 10 girls who played varsity for four years, but we're going to do better than people think."