The Havre High tennis teams have already played in Cut Bank this season. But the Blue Ponies are about to go back there for an even bigger challenge.
Friday and Saturday, the Pony netters will be on the Cut Bank courts for the annual Class A Duals. It's a meet in which HHS gets to see plenty of Class A competition, and one that head coach George Ferguson says is very important to the Ponies' season.
"This is our first big meet of the year," Ferguson said. "Usually, we have the Havre Invite under our belts before Cut Bank, but it didn't work out that way. Still, we have been practicing and playing for a month now, so I consider this meet the start of the second phase of our season. So it's a big two days for us."
The Ponies will get to see plenty of the Northwest A this weekend, as Havre has duals scheduled against Polson, Columbia Falls, Libby and Whitefish. Columbia Falls and Whitefish are new to the Class A Duals this season, while Polson and Libby have been coming since its inception.
Havre will start the meet against the Pirates Friday morning, and it will be the Ponies' biggest challenge of the season thus far. The Polson boys are the defending Class A champions, and they possess two All-State singles players in Brady Hislop and Dylan McCrumb. Polson also has a top doubles team returning from a year ago, so the dual will be the start of a big weekend for the Havre boys.
"Polson will be a tough challenge for our boys team," Ferguson said. "They are talented throughout their lineup. It will be a great opportunity for our kids to see where we stand against one of the best and most talented teams in Class A. As for the other teams, we're not really familiar with who they have, but the Northwest A is always good, so I expect Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Libby to all be very tough."
Jeff Miller is undefeated for the Ponies at the No. 1 singles spot, and he and Hislop will go head-to-head Friday morning. Miller and Hislop are two of the top challengers for the Class A singles title this season, and they played an epic three-set match at last year's Class A state tournament. Zach Hellegaard will play No. 2 singles for the Ponies, followed by Jerod Boles and Jamie Lieberg. Ned Malone and Brian Smith will man the No. 1 doubles spot, while Wyatt Lindbloom and Noah Landgraf are at No. 2 and freshmen Nate Korb and Jake Sedahl are at No. 3.
On the girls side, Havre's dual with Polson will be a tough one, but the Whitefish and Columbia Falls girls are expected to be tough, too. And Havre still is without its full varsity lineup as the senior doubles team of Haley Graham and Morgan Jappe will be absent this weekend. In singles, Havre will go with Brandy Lambourne at No. 1, Tatiana Ralph at No. 2, Shannon Herring at No. 3 and Megan Smith at No. 4. In doubles, Ellery Bresler and Breck Don are No. 1, Madison Huebsch and Rainey Stoner are No. 2 and Alara Vogel and Ashley Hoffland are No. 3.
"All four teams we play will be tough," Ferguson said. "Polson is always very strong in girls tennis and will be again this season. We are also moving up some younger players, so this will be a good, but challenging experience for them. But I still expect our girls to do very well. That's the goal for them, to keep improving."
Actually, improvement is still the goal for the entire HHS tennis program. Having to call off last Saturday's Havre Invitational leaves the Blue Ponies short on match experience, but Ferguson said his teams are working hard to catch up, and that this weekend's trip to Cut Bank will really tell him a lot about the Ponies' progress.
"Obviously, it is nice to win as many matches as we can and as many duals as we can," Ferguson said. "Especially because these duals are against our Class A piers. But the bottom line is, we're still trying to just get into form, still working on the fundamentals and conditioning. So we already know, we're not where we want to be yet. But this tournament needs to be a springboard to help us get to where we want to be. So win or lose, our goal as a team is to leave Cut Bank being able to say we played the best tennis we've played so far this spring. If we can say that at the end of the weekend, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do."
Havre will face Polson and Columbia Falls Friday morning, then return to Cut Bank Saturday to take on Whitefish and Libby. The rescheduled Havre Invitational is slated for Monday.