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Blue Pony Hoops 2017-18: Pony Girls Ready to Stampede

Talented Havre High girls should be one of Class A's elite

 

December 7, 2017

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Kyndall Keller and the Havre High girls basketball team is primed for another big season. The Blue Ponies, of head coach Dustin Kraske, have been a staple in the Central A, and on the Class A level for years, and this season should be no different.

Over the last decade, the Havre High girls basketball team has won as consistently as just about any team in Class A and with another talented team in tow for head coach Dustin Kraske, that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

The Blue Ponies have made the Class A state tournament 10 times in the last 11 years and have qualified in each of the past six seasons. Havre even won its second Class A state championship back in 2014.

However, even though Havre has been among the elite teams in Class A for years, the Ponies aren't satisfied. In fact, far from it. And with a ton of returning experience back for the 2017-18 season, along with All-State sophomore Kyndall Keller, HHS has its eyes on another state tourney run.

"I'm not disappointed that we haven't won another state championship because it's so hard to do," Kraske said. "You have to get a little luck. Last year, I did think we underachieved a little bit. I thought that was a Saturday-night-at-state team and we didn't quite make it. I thought we were good enough to be a Saturday-night team at state the last couple of years, it just hasn't worked out that way. But our goal and our focus, is getting this team to play up to its capability, whatever that is. We want to be the best team that we can be come late February and early March. That goal never changes."

While Havre will be without some key pieces from last year's team, such as two-time All-State performer Naomi Terry, Ceyara Plante, Kristen Nash and Rayan VandenBos, with Keller back on the fold, along with seniors Marca Herron, Danielle Wallace, Kaylee Nystrom and Rien Olsen, the Ponies don't lack for experience.

"This is an old team," Kraske said. "Marca has been playing since she was a freshman, Wallace has been playing since she was a sophomore. Rien played a lot last year and was on the bench for us and played as a sophomore. So we have a lot of kids that have been around. We have some great leadership and this is just a really good group. They all worked really hard and they are all really motivated to get better every single day."

Havre will certainly miss the nearly 17 points a game it got from Terry and the close to 10 points a night it got from Plante. But Keller, who averaged more than 14 points and six rebounds per game, is more than ready to pick up slack.

"One thing I want to see her do is be more aggressive going to the basket," Kraske said. "That's something she has really been working on. The other thing is that because she is going to get some extra attention from defenders, I want her to look more at what is the right thing to do with the basketball in that situation."

Beyond Keller, Marca Herron, who is committed to play for the University of Providence in Great Falls next season, is another solid scorer, while Wallace, the team's leading rebounder, also provides a scoring presence inside.

"Wallace can bea beast inside," Kraske said. "She can be a dominant force inside when she wants to be and I think that she has really worked on that this offseason and trying to be more consistent."

In addition to Keller and the four seniors, Havre should also get contributions from junior Kylie Verploegen, sophomores Kadia Miller and Katie Wirtzberger, along with freshman guard Kylie Walker, who will come off the bench.

"One thing I really like about this team is the depth that we have," Kraske said. "Just about every spot, we have a couple of really nice players. The challenge for all of them is going to be finding out what their new roles are on this new team."

Havre was a state semifinalist a season ago, but getting back to that point at the state tournament won't be easy, especially not with lots of teams returning key players. Defending state champion Columbia Falls not only has its head coach back in Cary Finberg, but the Wildkats also return All-State guard Dani Douglas. Columbia Falls beat Havre in the semifinals last season, before knocking off Hardin to win the state championship.

Speaking of Hardin, the Bulldogs are also talented again, returning multiple starters from a team that won 22 games last season. Frenchtown, Hamilton, Dillon and Butte Central should all be tough to contend with on the Western side of the state, along with Browning, who is now part of the Northwest A and Ronan, which went 23-0 in Class B before losing two games at the state tournament. They are back in Class A and have joined the Northwest.

Hardin and Havre are among the favorites in the Eastern A, but teams like Billings Central, Belgrade, Laurel, Miles City, Glendive and Lewistown should all be in contention. Sidney and Livingston also can't be counted out.

"I think that our team has done a good job of not looking too far ahead," Kraske said. "It's going to be tough in the Central A and the Eastern A. But we are just going to try and go out each night and get better and be the best team that we can be. We are going to control what we can control."

In terms of the schedule, Havre will open with four straight home games against Sidney and Glendive Dec. 8-9, as well Belgrade and Livingston Dec. 15-16. Havre will play on the road against Malta Dec. 19, before playing another home game Dec. 22 against Great Falls High.

After a break for the holidays, the Ponies will pay a visit to Fairfield Jan. 5, before returning to the HHS gymnasium to play Lewistown Jan. 6. The Havre girls will then play Rocky Boy at home Jan. 11, before three straight road games against Browning Jan. 12, Livingston Jan. 19 and Belgrade Jan. 20. The Ponies will return home to play Fairfield Feb. 2, before the final conference road game of the season against Lewistown Feb. 3. Havre will play its home finale Feb. 9 against Browning, before concluding the regular season with consecutive road games against Rocky Boy and CMR, Feb. 10 and Feb. 13.

The Eastern A Divisional Tournament will be in Billings Feb. 21-24. The Class A State Tournament will be in Great Falls March 8-10.

 

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