Ponies set to invade Class A state tourney
May 20, 2009
Daniel Horton Havre Daily News [email protected]
As far as numbers go, the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams will be in unfamiliar territory when the Blue Ponies arrive in Kalispell for the 2009 Class A state tournament. HHS qualified just three boys and four girls for Thursday and Friday's meet in Kalispell, but don't let the numbers fool anyone. The Ponies are taking some serious firepower into the state tournament, and they fully intend to keep their streak of bringing hardware back to Havre in tact. Over the last 10 years, the HHS boys have placed no worse than third in each and every state tournament, while the HHS girls are on a five-year streak of bringing a trophy home from the state tourney. And while the numbers might not suggest it, the Ponies are poised to keep those streaks alive. “A lot has to go right for us to be in the state title hunts this weekend,” HHS head coach George Ferguson said. “But we have the players to make that happen. We may only be taking seven kids this weekend, but they are all big point-scorers for us, so we expect to do very well Thursday and Friday.” Indeed, in recent years, the Pony boys have qualified as many as eight and nine boys for the state tournament, but have come short in the state title hunt, so this year's team is out to prove its quality and not necessarily quantity which can get the job done. Havre has big guns going into the boys tournament, led by senior Shane Kemmer in singles. Kemmer is a twotime Central A champion and is making his fourth straight state tournament appearance, in all of which he has scored points for HHS. Kemmer is also considered one of the few players who can challenge Whitefish star Matt Harris for the singles title, but Ferguson said that the singles final is not what's on anyone's mind right now. “Shane is a veteran player, he's seen and done it all in this sport and he understands what it takes to win at the state tournament,” Ferguson said. “We're not looking any farther ahead than his first match on Thursday. He's got a great shot to do well this weekend, just as he has every year of his high school career. But we're just going to take it one match at a time, hopefully he plays his best, and the rest of that stuff will take care of itself.” In doubles, an HHS team has been in the final every year since 2002, including last season when Kyle Miller and Todd Roe were beaten by a Whitefish team. Miller is back this season for another crack at the state title, but he is now joined by senior Mason Sheppard, another HHS veteran. In only two months of playing together, Miller and Sheppard have gelled, losing just three times all season, and they are unbeaten against Class A competition. Still, the road will be tough for the duo with strong teams from Corvallis and Billings Central in Miller and Sheppard's way. But after a stern test in the Central A championship last week, Ferguson knows his No. 1 team is more than ready. “Kyle and Mason have played well all year, and again, they are both state tournament veterans, so they won't be intimidated by this stage,” Ferguson said. “They know they have to play well, everybody at this level is good, so it's just a matter of going out there and playing their game. But there is no doubt in mind they are ready for this challenge and it's going to be fun to watch and see how they do.” As far as the team race is concerned, Ferguson is relishing the underdog role. With only three players to score points, Havre may be overlooked when the tournament starts. Instead, teams like Corvallis, Billings Central and Lewistown, which each qualified a large number of players, will be considered the favorites this weekend. “Of course we would have liked to get more players to state,” Ferguson said. “But we're taking the divisional champions in both singles and doubles and we're taking three of the best overall tennis players in the state, so we're looking forward to seeing what we can do. It's a big challenge to us, but there's also no pressure on these guys. All they need to do is go out and do the best they can and have fun. That's all were really looking for out of them.” Meanwhile, the Blue Pony girls will go with just two doubles teams this weekend in Kalispell, but both are capable of scoring a lot of points. The junior duos of Courtney Kinholt and Hayley Donovan and Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf are both making their second straight trip to the state tournament, but this year, both teams have much more lofty goals. “Both of our doubles teams played in this tournament a year ago, and while they didn't win a match, they gained valuable experience,” Ferguson said. “And it's really paid off, because they have both played well right from the start of the season. Now, going into this state tournament, they both want to do well, they aren't just happy to be there, so they both are going to be tough opponents for any team they face this weekend.” Donovan and Kinholt come into the state tournament fresh off their first Central A doubles championship, and they are one of the top four seeds this weekend. McCann and Landgraf finished third last weekend in Lewistown, but have been one of the most consistent doubles teams in Class A this season. And both teams should make plenty of noise Thursday and Friday. And as far as the team title goes on the girls side, it doesn't seem like a reasonable goal for HHS's four girls, but Polson captured last year's girls championship with just two doubles teams in the field. So, like on the boys side, the girls race will also come down to quality more than quantity. Still, teams from Billings Central, Glendive and Lewistown might have more depth this weekend, and could have an upper hand in the girls race. “We're not looking at this tournament by how many points we need to score on either side,” Ferguson said. “We're approaching it as, we want to go out there and win the match that we're scheduled to play. One match at a time is all that matters to us. The rest will take care of itself one way or another. “The fact is, we are taking seven very good tennis players to state this year, and they are all capable of being successful this weekend,” he added. “How successful, we'll have to wait and see. But I'm already very proud of all of these kids and all I want out of them this weekend is to play their best and have fun, and we'll see how it all turns out in the end.” The 2009 Class A state tennis tournament will begin Thursday morning and run through Friday afternoon in Kalispell. The two-day tournament will be played at the Flathead Valley Community College Tennis Complex.