The beauty behind the conference schedule is that the Havre High volleyball team always gets a second crack at their Central A foes. And when facing two conference rivals they haven't seen since the second week of the season, the Blue Ponies are more than ready to see how they match up the second time around.
Early in the season, the Livingston Rangers and Belgrade Panthers both swept the Ponies in three games. The Rangers defeated the Ponies by scores of 25-17, 25-20, and 25-19, and the Panthers defeated the Ponies in three games by scores of 25-19, 25-6, and 25-13. But on Saturday, the Ponies will take on both teams in round two in Browning.
Currently sitting at 2-3 in the conference, the Ponies are in a battle with the Rangers for the No. 3 spot in the conference. Now, with a chance to get one or maybe even two very important wins, the Ponies can lock down a top spot heading into the final stretch of the season before divisionals.
"This weekend means a lot for who will end up in third place in the conference," Havre High head coach Melanie Skoyen said. "Belgrade is undefeated in conference and we know that will be a tough match, but as long as we bring our A game and put enough pressure on them, we know any team is beatable.
"And we have been playing better," Skoyen added. "And I am especially anxious for our rematch with Livingston because we didn't play our best against them. But even the next day we were able to beat them in pool play (at the Windy City Classic), so that showed that we didn't play our best the first time. But we have come along way this season, and I do anticipate a closer match, but hopefully in our favor this time."
The early losses to the Rangers and Panthers came from a Pony team that simply wasn't playing well to start the season. HHS didn't execute their serve receive well at all, they made too many unforced errors, and couldn't find a way to hold momentum when they did execute or go on a run. The Blue Ponies are well aware of how costly those mistakes would be again the second time around, but have also showed great improvements from the beginning of the season to where they are at now.
Lacey Waid and Aubrea Worm are hitting very well for the Ponies, and Martha Stocker is showing she can do it all in the middle, helping lead the way in kills and blocks this season. If the setting by the ponies can continue to get better with Dani Wagner and Ellery Bresler shouldering that load, then the Ponies could find much more satisfactory results on Saturday.
"Our serve-receive still isn't as good as it could be," Skoyen said. "But it has improved a lot since the beginning of the season. I think that will make a difference in our matches this weekend. Our defense has looked really good in practice too, and our serve receive just has to keep improving."
Both the Rangers and Panthers have solid teams all around, with no glaring weakness to attack.
Livingston has solid hitters like Megan Hawkins to deal with, but the Ponies main concern this weekend should be Belgrade's Tayler Woolman, a standout hitter, blocker, and server in the Central A. Woolman is first in the conference in aces, second in kills, and second in kills, and will attack the Ponies from anywhere on the floor.
And while Stocker's block will be crucial, the Ponies will also lean on Reggie Bernard. Jacinta Finneman will most likely miss this weekend due to an ankle injury, making room for Bernard to step up and play middle. But with how well Finneman has played this season, she will be missed.
"We will definitely miss her (Finneman's) blocking," Skoyen said. "But that is why we need her back as soon as possible. But we would also rather have her healthy for divisionals, and I know Reggie will step up and play well also. And she (Woolman) is a powerhouse and a really good player. We need to be aware of here at all times, and can't let her use our blocks against us. We have to play smart and disciplined with our blocking, make sure we are penetrating the net, and not just putting our arms up. We have to block with a purpose and really focus in on her."
Saturday in Browning the Blue Ponies will face Belgrade and Livingston for two conference matches.