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Streaking: Pony boys claim tennis trophy

 

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The first day of the 2010 Class A state tennis tournament was a Jekyl and Hyde performance by the Havre high boys tennis team.

By Friday night however, the Blue Pony boys managed to keep one of the most remarkable streaks in high school tennis alive and well.

This past weekend in Billings, the Pony boys scored 17 points, placed three competitors and earned a secondplace trophy. Havre finished second to Corvallis who racked up an astounding 59 points. Libby finished third with 15 points. The trophy was HHS's 14th straight at the state tournament.

"Things got off to a tough start for some of our players," Havre High head coach George Ferguson said. "But having said that, I couldn't be more proud of where we ended up. There was no quit in our kids. We played a lot of three-set matches, we played a lot of tiebreakers.

It seemed like our backs were against the wall the entire tournament, and yet we finished second. That's really impressive, and it speaks to the character of our entire boys team. They never gave up and I'm proud of them for that." In singles, Havre senior Kyle Miller finished third, but it wasn't the finish he was gunning for. A heavy favorite heading into the weekend, Miller was upset in the quarterfinals by Hamilton's Bob Huppert. Miller rebounded to win once more on Thursday, then played three dominating matches on the MSU-B indoor courts on Friday to finish third. On the second day, Miller was back to his dominant self, and was rarely threatened.

For his career, Miller captured three state tournament medals, finishing second in doubles in 2008, winning a state doubles championship with Mason Sheppard in 2009 and moving back to singles to finish third this year.

"I am so proud of Kyle," Ferguson said. "That loss on Thursday doesn't diminish his career one bit and it doesn't change the fact he was one of the best players in the field in Billings and one of the best all-around players I've ever coached. His record speaks for itself.

He's had a tremendous career at Havre High and I've been lucky to coach him the last four years.

"It was just one of those things," Ferguson added about the loss to Huppert.

"He didn't play as well as he would have liked and the Hamilton kid was a solid enough player to take advantage of that. That's tennis. It's an imperfect sport. My heart was broken for Kyle because he wanted this state championship badly. But he showed me, and all his teammates what kind of player, what kind of person he is by not giving up. He played with a lot of emotion and intensity on the second day and he went out a winner. I'm just so proud of him for that." While Corvallis senior Levi Pauley wound up beating Huppert for the state championship, the Ponies also got a point from sophomore Justin Jensen in singles. Jensen lost his opening-round match to Billings Central's Ryan Burke, but rebounded to win a three-setter in the loser-out bracket before losing to Hardin's Rusty Burshia in another marathon match on Thursday afternoon.

The Ponies also got a huge boost from the young doubles tandem of sophomore Brayden Grimson and freshman Danny Roe. The duo came in as underdogs despite having won the Central A title a week ago. They outlasted a veteran Hamilton team in the first round, then beat a tough duo from Libby in the quarterfinals to earn four points for HHS on Thursday and reach the semifinals.

The duo lost to one of two state finalist teams from Corvallis on Friday morning, and wound up placing sixth, but they showed everyone they will be a force to be reckoned with for at least the next two years.

"Danny and Brayden are a big part of why we were able to bring that trophy home," Ferguson said. "There weren't a lot of expectations on them going in, after all, they've only been playing together for two months, and there were some tough and veteran teams in this tournament. But wow, they played some great tennis. They really grew into a very good doubles team this weekend.

And we couldn't have done what we did as a team without their performance this weekend. I couldn't be happier with how they played and what they accomplished." Havre's junior doubles team of Keenan Dolezal and Zach Cichosz didn't win a match in the state tournament, but Ferguson said they also played well, got valuable experience and helped solidify HHS as a dominant doubles team next season with all six of their varsity doubles players returning.

The Blue Devils took the top two spots in doubles as well as a fifth-place finish, helping add to their record-setting state tourney performance.

As for the Ponies, in the end, it was business as usual. HHS has far and away been the most consistent boys program in Montana for the last two decades and the Ponies proved that fact this weekend in Billings.

"I'm so proud of this team right now," Ferguson said. "Graduation has hit this program hard the last few years, and yet we keep finding ways to succeed.

This year is extra special because on March 15, the only thing we knew was that Kyle (Miller) was our No. 1 singles player. Beyond that, our lineup was completely up in the air. And two months later here we are, holding another trophy. That is such a testament to the kind of players we have, the student- athletes we have in this program.

This was a great and fun group to work with and I'm proud of every player who came out for our team this year, and all of the guys who went to state and made it a great weekend for our program.

 
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