By Kim Staudinger
The Havre High boys tennis team is becoming something of a dynasty.
The defending Class A state champions start their run for a fourth straight divisional title Friday in Livingston.
"Our boys will be heavy favorites to win their fourth consecutive divisional championship," Havre coach Sam Dierman said.
The boys will compete against teams from Lewistown and Butte Central.
The Havre girls team placed a distant second at last year's divisional tournament and are looking to sneak up on the host team and tournament favorite, Livingston.
"The girls have their best chance to close the gap with Livingston," Dierman said. "Livingston has two great doubles teams but they are a little weak in the other areas. We have a chance if we play our best of the season."
Along with Livingston and Havre, Lewistown, Butte Central and Anaconda will compete at the divisional tournament on the girls' side.
The boys team has two of the top three singles players in Cody McLain, the divisional champion and state runner-up, and freshman Kyle Baltrusch. Senior Andrew McLain, last year's divisional runner-up, and junior Tyler Vincent round out the Havre team.
In doubles, Mike Frey and Daine Solomon and Seth Maristuen and Jeremy Heninger hold the top spots and will be placed on opposite sides of the bracket. Frey and Maristuen partnered last season and defeated teammates Heninger and Tyler Croft, who graduated. Freshmen duo Gary Wagner and Marc Mariani will also see action in their first divisional tournament this weekend.
"Every boy on our team has a chance to make it (to state)," Dierman said. "Realistically, the boys should win divisionals. We're the heavy favorites.
"Cody is playing really well right now. Tyler and Andrew have been to state before but it's going to be tough because Lewistown has a couple good singles players. But I know they can beat them," Dierman said.
"I'm going to find out more about Kyle this weekend because this is a big competition."
For the girls, senior Laura Hedstrom, juniors Samantha Shrauger and Crystal Pyrak and freshman Amy McLain hold the four varsity spots for the Ponies. Hedstrom, Shrauger and Pyrak all competed at last year's tournament but didn't advance to the state tournament.
"The girls singles who make it to state will be the ones who are the most consistent through the weekend," Dierman said. "The girls singles in our division is the most open I've ever seen. Anybody can get in the top four."
The doubles teams are led by Jennifer Gorder and Ryan Hamilton, who fell just short of a state berth last year, plus Casey Peterson and Taylor Donaldson and Erika Johnson and Sara Suek. Peterson and Johnson competed at last year's divisionals as doubles partners.
"The girls doubles is tougher because Livingston has the defending state champs and another team," Dierman said. "It's going to be a dogfight between us and the rest of the doubles teams."
The top four singles players and top four doubles teams will advance to the state tournament May 24-25 in Kalispell.
"My goal is to see how many kids we can get to state," Dierman said.