HHS spikers seek redemption at Central A
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Daniel Horton Havre Daily News [email protected]
The Havre High volleyball team finished the regular season as co-conference champions with the Lewistown Golden Eagles. But entering the divisional tournament, the Blue Ponies are the No. 2 seed behind the Eagles for the second straight year. Friday and Saturday, the No. 2 Ponies (9-1, 14-4) will join the No. 1 Eagles (9-1, 15-3), No. 3 Belgrade Panthers (6- 4, 7-7), No. 4 Livingston Rangers (3-7, 8-10), No. 5 Butte Central Maroons (2-8, 6-11) and No. 6 Browning Indians (1-9, 4-12) for the Central A Divisional tournament in Browning. Both the Eagles and Ponies will get a first round bye. The Eagles will face the winner of the Rangers/Maroons match, and the Ponies will face the winner of the Indians/Panthers match at 4 p.m. on Friday in Browning's brand new gymnasium. Since the Ponies and Eagles only losses came against each other and both finished the regular season with a 9-1 conference record there had to be a tiebreaker to determine the seeding. But since both teams defeated the other by a total of 16 points, the tiebreaker went to a coin toss. The Eagles were the higher seed a year ago, and therefore got the call. They called it correctly, giving the Ponies the No. 2 seed for the second consecutive year. “That right there shows how evenly matched we are,” Havre High head coach Melanie Walker said. “But in Class A, and especially our conference, it doesn't matter who is the conference champ. It's really the divisional champion who is the best in conference. And I believe that whoever does win divisionals is the best in the conference.” And that's exactly what the Ponies will set out to achieve this weekend a divisional championship. A year ago the, Ponies finished third at divisionals, missing out on the Class A state tournament. But after having relatively no problems with conference opponents this year, they feel they have what it takes to go all the way. The Ponies met each conference opponent twice during the regular season. And doing so they defeated the Maroons in seven games, the Rangers in six, the Indians in seven and the Panthers in seven. The Ponies split with the Eagles, defeating them in four at home and losing in four on the road. Throughout the season, the Ponies had their ups and downs, dropping a game here and there along the way. But they also feel they have improved with every match, and are entering this weekend playing their best volleyball. It doesn't matter the opponent, the Ponies are confident. “I said at the beginning of the season that I feel we will peak at the right time,” Walker said. “And now I really think that is coming true, we are peaking right when we need to be and I think it's going to really show come divisionals.” But before the Ponies return to Havre as divisional champions, they must first take care of their first opponent in either the Panthers or the Indians. And knowing they will be facing one of these two teams, the Ponies know they must be prepared in all facets of their game. The Panthers have a solid offense with very good hitters up front. They make a lot of tough shots, and have very good vision of the court. Browning on the other hand doesn't have the strongest offense, but has a very solid defense. They consistently made tough digs against the Ponies, and Walker labeled them as the scrappiest defense she had faced all year. “I am pretty confident right now that we will take care of either team in three games,” Walker said. “Just the way we have been practicing, the way we have been playing and just how bad the girls want it right now. Either way we are going to have to play a team that either has an extremely good offense or an extremely good defense.” The Panthers and Indians are two tough squads that can't be overlooked, but the Ponies biggest source of competition will come by the way of the Maroons and Eagles. But not knowing if or when they will even see a team this weekend, the Ponies aren't doing anything special to prepare. They are going about their usual business at practice and just making sure they are clicking on all cylinders. Since HHS has seen every possible opponent twice already, the Ponies don't need a week to prepare for each team. At this point, they should know what they are up against and should know how to handle it. “The girls are smart enough to know the teams weaknesses and strengths,” Walker said. “And it's something they can mentally prepare for during warmups. If we have an hour to know who we are playing, we are going to remember what they do well and what we did well against them.” To be successful this weekend the Ponies have to play good defense, they have to play scrappy defense. They have to read the opposing hitters, and Walker says her blockers need to work hard and press over the net. It will also be key for the defense to know their role, and to remain in their defensive areas. If they can keep in their areas, Walker says they will always be in good position. Offensively, Walker simply sated that her hitters need to swing away. “I like when the girls tip,” Walker said. “But it also frustrates me. We are such good hitters. I would just like them to see where the blockers hands are and hit the opposite direction. I know that if we don't hit hard and get our kills, it's just going to give other teams opportunities.” Karla Hellegaard and Morgan Mc- Cann have hit well for the Ponies all season. And having them on this weekend will be crucial. But Mary Kaercher and Paighton Gilman have also began hitting very well as of late, and will play a big role in the Ponies' dominance on offense. The Ponies' play from behind the service line will also be crucial. It has been very strong the last few weeks and has taken the opponents offense right out of the contest. McCann and Hayley Donovan have served tough all season, but the Ponies are having more and more kids stepping up each match. And while Gilman and Kaercher have served very consistent as the season wound down, Hellegaard has also demonstrated she can be tough to handle from behind the service line as well. “If we keep serving tough and these teams aren't working on their serve-receive,” Walker said. “They are going to have a hard time against us.” During the season, the Eagles took a match from the Ponies in their only conference loss. And knowing that there is a chance that the Ponies and Eagles will meat again, even in the championship game, the Ponies are entering the weekend with the hopes of redemption and revenge. “We are just really looking forward to seeing Lewistown again,” Walker said. “Facing them with their fans, in their home gym and on their court was intimidating. So getting to play them after they just beat us, in a neutral location, I am really hoping we can make a statement if we see them.” Friday and Saturday, the Ponies will attend the Central A divisional tournament in Browning. And on Friday at 4 p.m., the Ponies will either Belgrade or Browning in a quarterfinal match. The top two teams from the tournament will afvance to the Class A state tournament next week in Bozeman.