With a pair of state championships under its belt, the Havre High girls tennis program has seen great days in the past. But that doesn't mean the Blue Pony girls who currently make up the team aren't a talented group. In fact, the six seniors that make up a good chunk of the varsity program this season know they are talented and still have their sights set on postseason accolades and hardware.
Doubles partners Breck Don and Ellery Bresler, and Morgan Jappe and Haley Graham, as well as singles players Brandy Lambourne and Shannon Herring, have been with the Pony tennis team for the last four years. All began as timid freshman, and all had little, or no experience on the tennis court prior to the first day of practice. But something caught the attention of all six athletes that spring four years ago, and the decision to play turned out to be a good one for each and every one of them.
For most of this senior group, they were simply looking for something fun and new to try as freshmen. For others, like Don and Bresler, they had upperclassman friends who introduced them to tennis.
"It was family for me," Herring said. "All my cousins played before me, so I decided to try it, too."
Lambourne has emerged as the teams' No. 1 singles player over the years and was close to not even picking up a racket. Right now Lambourne could be preparing for the Central A divisional track meet, but soon realized running wasn't her thing.
"I didn't get interested in tennis until about a week into the season," Lambourne said. "I was doing track, but then I was like, no, this is not for me, so I decided to come out for tennis instead. I just don't like running for fun. And I had never played tennis before, so it was kind of frustrating at first, but then it was fun the more I played."
It really doesn't matter what reason these current Ponies had for coming out for tennis, because all of them are better, and happier for it. They have all had great careers and have high hopes of finishing their senior seasons with a run into the postseason, as individuals and as a team.
"This group of seniors might be as important to Havre High girls tennis as any senior class I ever coached," said HHS head coach George Ferguson. "When I got here, the girls program hadn't had a ton of team success. They had had some really good individuals and doubles teams over the years, but trophies were hard to come by. So one of my goals was to remedy that. I wanted to build that side of the program up, and with some great and dedicated girls, we've been able to do that over the years. But after the 2010 class graduated, the cupboard got a little more bare. We had some strong players the next couple of years, but not the kind of depth we had become used to.
"And that's where this group comes in," Ferguson continued. "They have been very dedicated to our program. They have helped keep girls tennis at Havre High at the same quality level that we have had the past decade. I'm so proud of this group for what they have become. They are great tennis players, but more than that, they are great student-athletes, wonderful people to be around and great representatives of Havre High. This class is always going to have a special place in my heart, because they have done so much for this program. Together they have continued the tradition we've built here, and collectively, and individually, I'm so proud of them."
In 2006 and 2009 two very good HHS teams won girls' titles for Havre High. It was the first two, and only, state championships in Havre girls tennis history. This years' team is attempting to fill very large shoes from said previous programs, and a divisional title and or state title would be the ultimate way to end their season and careers.
Lambourne got a taste of state supremacy earlier this year with the HHS girls basketball team, and that has left her hungry for more. But players like Graham have put all their efforts into a single sport and recognize this as their final opportunity to get a coveted piece of that pie.
"I think that would be sweet because we have all been playing and practicing together for the last four years," Lambourne said. "Nobody came in at a random time or year, we have been through a lot together.
"I think it was our sophomore year," Graham added. "We watched the boys win a title and I always wished it was us. But I don't play other sports; so winning a title would be cool for that reason, too. The basketball players got to see what that felt like this year, and that was really cool. But this is the only sport I can do this in, so it would be a cool way to finish."
As well as finishing on top right now, this classy group of seniors is also concerned about the program's future. There are zero freshmen on the roster this year, and in a couple of years, that could be a problem. And for a program that has been a dominating force in the state ranks in the past, it would be a shame for it to be tripped up by its own lack of interest. None of the current seniors ever thought they would be impact players as they struggled in their first year, but through hard work and sticking with the sport, they are undoubtedly the leaders with their actions and play.
And while things were frustrating early on, the Pony seniors have begun to come into their own the last couple of years. Don and Bresler took third at divisionals last year, as did Lambourne. But that just left them hungry for this years' divisional and state tournaments.
"It is a frustrating game, but its fun," Don said with a laugh. "And plus, you get to take out all your frustrations on the ball if you need to. If I ever need to let my temper come out I can just swing harder at the ball. But young players just need to try the sport and stick with it, it is fun."
"Even if somebody wants to play for fun," Bresler added. "It gets your footwork better for other sports like basketball. And we have a lot of fun, we have fun on our bus trips, and there is no hate between players. We are all close friends that have fun."
Right now girls tennis may get lost in the shadows behind track and softball, but if these girls have anything to say about it, it won't be that way for long. With goals of state success, girls tennis might end up where it used to be, where it belongs, front and center.
"Tennis is kind of a background sport with track and softball right now I think," Jappe said. "If we can find some team success at divisionals and state this season, then I think we could get some attention back on us, too.
"If we got a title then it would be our names on the trophy and people would remember us," Bresler added. "We wouldn't just be the 2014 team. But it will also help the program because the girls team needs new players. There are no freshman this year.
"From a tennis standpoint, the thing that will always stand out to me about this group, is none of them had a tennis background when they were freshmen. They were all basketball players, volleyball players, swimmers, or did different things coming in," Ferguson said. "And look at where they are now. They are some of the best at what they do in our division and in the state. That speaks volumes to how dedicated they have been and how hard they have worked every day for four years.
"To see the kind of tennis players these girls have become, it also shows that they fell in love with the game, and with our program," he continued. "And I'm so thankful to them for that. What they have done for Havre High girls tennis means the world to me, and they have set a great example, hopefully for a bright future of girls tennis at Havre High. And they aren't done yet. This next two weeks is setting up to be very special for this group, and for our girls team, and no one deserves success more than this group of seniors does. Again, I'm just so proud of all of them, and it's been an honor to coach them."