By Kim Staudinger
The Havre Blue Ponies and Chinook Sugarbeeters match up tonight for their first meeting of the season.
Both volleyball teams have a lot more riding on the game than just a friendly rivalry between teams from towns that are only 25 minutes apart. For Chinook, bragging rights are on the line. But the Ponies want to win their first home game, something they failed to do last year, ending a streak of consecutive wins at home.
Havre head coach Lacy Anderson said her team wants to redeem itself after a disappointing season last year and wants to prove itself to the fans.
The nonconference matchup begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Blue Pony Corral. Freshmen and junior varsity matches will start the night off at 4:15.
Chinook is coming off a strong weekend with wins over Harlem and Wolf Point. Chinook defeated Harlem 15-10, 15-0, 15-1 on Friday and Wolf Point 15-13, 15-6, 15-9 on Saturday.
"The kids are playing well together," Chinook head coach Paula Molyneaux said. "We hope to roll off of one good weekend right into another."
Havre is also coming off a good weekend after playing some very tough teams at the Electric City Invitational in Great Falls. Havre placed fourth in the consolation bracket after seeding sixth in pool play. In tournament play, the Ponies defeated Hellgate 15-6, 15-11 and Sentinel 15-13, 15-8, but lost to Billings West 10-15, 15-6, 10-15 and Flathead 13-15, 17-19.
Yet both coaches know there is still much room for improvement.
"We do things well one at a time," Anderson said. "Either we are passing well, setting well or hitting well. I want us to put all our skills together."
Anderson said the Ponies are not playing up to their full potential.
"I have high expectations," Anderson said. "We are 2-0 in conference and it looks good, but it's not up to our capabilities."
Molyneaux said the key to the game for the Sugarbeeters will be to put all the aspects of the game together at once.
"We need to get our defense going," Molyneaux said. "That will be the key to us doing well. We need to play well defensively and pass well."
Molyneaux said her team needs to be able to match up with the Ponies at the net and not be intimidated by Havre's size.
Another key to the game for the Ponies will be adjusting to Chinook's style of play at the net. Anderson said that although the Beeters can hit the ball well, they tipped the ball a lot more last year and her team didn't adjust well.
"Last year they killed us on tipping," Anderson said. "We didn't read the tip well. We need to read that defensively. That has been our focus in practice."
Anderson said the Ponies will stick to their normal defensive plan unless it starts to work against them.
After Friday's matchup with Havre, the Beeters travel to Glasgow to take on the Scotties. Molyneaux said while the Havre game is important, the game of focus in practice has been the big conference matchup with Glasgow.
Glasgow, which took third at the Chinook Invitational Tournament, has a style of game similar to that of the Beeters, but also has a new coach, which leaves a little element of surprise in the first meeting of the year for the two teams.
"Glasgow's got a real nice squad," Molyneaux said. "They hit the ball well and have traditionally been a tough team."
Chinook will be a warmup for the Ponies, as they leave Saturday morning for a triangular meet in Lewistown. The Ponies will face conference foes Anaconda and Dillon. Anderson said Anaconda is similar to Chinook they're not very big and like to tip the ball.
Anderson said she is looking forward to some players stepping it up this weekend after a good week in practice.
"Katie Miller has done an awesome job on defense this week," Anderson said. "We need her defensively. She's a great passer and she reads the ball well. Amy (Ranes) did really well for us last weekend. And Taylor Donaldson was serving 100 percent until last weekend."