Already in the final stretch of the regular season, the Havre High volleyball team has limited time to get where it needs to be to be competitive in the postseason.
But the Central A Blue Ponies will look to use tonight's non-conference match against the Class B Choteau Bulldogs to get that much closer.
Tonight, the Ponies (5-7, 2-1) will face the Bulldogs in Choteau. It is the second meeting between the two teams, and the Ponies are looking to bounce back from a loss to Conrad on Saturday. But the Ponies are also looking to redeem themselves after a four game loss to the Bulldogs in late September at the Havre High gymnasium. In the first meeting Choteau defeated Havre by scores of 25-8, 23-35, 25-15 and 25-16.
It was a tough outing in the midst of a difficult stretch for the Ponies, and a slow start was the cause of most of the Ponies' struggles. And facing a good Bulldogs team on the road, a slow start would be even more dooming.
"We need the playing time right now," Havre High head coach Melanie Skoyen said. "And just more time to work on our confidence. Whether we win or lose, we need to play with no fear and I think that has been our problem a lot this season and that has been a cause of that (slow starts). Our mental toughness has been a weakness of ours and we have been playing scared and I am not sure why. But we have really been working on that this week in practice, and I know it isn't going to happen overnight, but as longa s they can show me that they are improving, not afraid to make aggressive mistakes, and keep their focus on the game then I will be happy."
But the Ponies won't just be competitive if they play to their strengths, they are more than talented enough to return home with a solid win. It will take a complete game, as well as a boost in mental strength, but HHS is capable.
Martha Stocker has been a key contributor all season long, and had a great match against Choteau the first time around. If Stocker can find that same success tonight, she could be the spark the rest of the Pony players rally behind on route to a much needed win and confidence boost.
Stocker led the Ponies with eight kills in the first meeting, as well as earned four of the Ponies' nine blocks playing out of the middle.
"You don't usually see a team set the middle so much," Skoyen said. "But we did last year because we really had a strong middle. She is getting the job done for us this year, and her hitting percentage is very high. She is just playing with so much force right now, and I see our players spark the rest of the team some of the time, but it needs to happen all of the time."
Lacey Waid and Aubrea Worm could also benefit hitting from the outside for the Ponies. If Stocker is able to have another big match in the middle, things open for the Ponies offensive attack, giving setters Dani Wagner and Ellery Bresler more options to go to.
The Bulldogs will be a difficult hurdle to clear tonight, but playing with no fear, the Ponies have to like their chances.
"If we just get over our fear and play well overall, we can be competitive," Skoyen said. "But we also need quicker reaction times, and I have been noticing that we are getting quicker in practice, so that will make a huge adjustment in our squad in a positive way too. That is just us playing together more, and I am glad that is coming around."
The Ponies will face the Bulldogs tonight at 6 in Choteau. Havre doesn't play again until Oct. 26 when the Ponies face Livingston and Belgrade in Browning.