By Kim Staudinger
Snow piles, sub-zero temperatures and now slush have kept area track, tennis and golf teams from practicing outdoors.
So the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams are not in the shape they need to be as they travel to Cut Bank on Saturday for their first meet of the season, their coach said.
The Ponies have practiced indoors since March 11 and, after shoveling slush, moved outside Monday.
While practicing inside, they focused on footwork, physical conditioning and form, head coach Sam Dierman said.
"I know we're in good physical shape, but we're not in tennis shape," he said.
Some of the Ponies took advantage of warm weather earlier this winter to get some much needed court time.
"What helps us is the kids in February were out playing all the time," Dierman said. "We even had some go to Great Falls and play on the indoor courts."
But now it's nearly April, and the season is starting.
"We are going to treat this like a practice," Dierman said of the Cut Bank meet, which will take place on indoor courts. "My big concern right now is that we get court time."
Having only been able to be outside for a few days now, Dierman said, he doesn't know who will be playing varsity yet. And with this being Easter weekend, neither team will be at full strength.
"My biggest goal for this weekend, honestly, is just to get them court time," Dierman said.
Fewer kids have gone out for tennis than in previous years, Dierman said. The Havre teams have 34 total players this year 21 girls and 13 boys.
The nucleus of the two-time defending state champion boys team has returned, including four state placers and two who competed at state but fell just short of placing. Cody McLain, a junior, placed second in the single's competition as a sophomore. Junior Jeremy Heninger and partner Tyler Croft, who graduated last spring, also placed second at state in doubles competition. Senior duo Mike Frey and Seth Maristuen placed just behind Heninger and Croft, taking third in doubles. Other state participants were Andrew McLain and Daine Solomon.
On the girls' side, the story is different. Just three girls made the trip to the state tournament last year and all three have graduated. Still, the Ponies return seven girls who played on the varsity team last season.
"We're only going to get better," Dierman said.
Also promising for both Havre teams is the strong freshman presence, including five for the boys and eight for the girls' team. Some of the freshmen may compete for varsity spots.
"This freshman group is extremely talented," Dierman said.
Another thing working for Dierman is the passion the Ponies have for tennis.
"These kids love tennis," he said. "It makes them pretty easy to coach then because they have the same goals I have."
He hopes his team members remain focused on playing tennis.
"The only thing that will stop these kids will be themselves," Dierman said. "They will be faced with some tough choices. It just depends on if they make the right one."