Time is now for Blue Pony tennis teams
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Over the last seven years, no high school tennis team has been more consistent at the Class A state meet than the Havre Blue Ponies.
Havre High boys and girls teams have brought back trophies from the state tournament seven straight times, including last year when the HHS girls captured the 2009 state championship, while the Pony boys finished second.
So, while many might have called this season a rebuilding year in Havre, don't be surprised that the Ponies are poised to improve upon their already impressive streak. The Blue Pony boys and girls teams, 11 players in all, will compete at the 2010 Class A state tournament Thursday and Friday at Pioneer Park and Central Park in Billings.
"We're in a better position than some people might of thought we'd be at this point this season," Havre High head coach George Ferguson said. "We had a great divisional tournament last weekend, got a good number of kids through to state, and they are all peaking at the right time. So even though it will be awfully hard to top what we accomplished last season, the kids we are taking to state certainly have a chance to leave their own mark on our program." Indeed, Havre is bringing five of the seven players which helped the Ponies to a remarkable run at last year's state tournament. Seniors Kyle Miller, Courtney Kinholt, Hayley Donovan, Morgan McCann and Jolee Landgraf are all back for more state tournament success.
And all of the seniors are favored to bring home hardware this weekend.
Miller has plenty of championship success. He's already a state doubles champion, and has played for state titles in each of the last two years. Moving back to singles this season, he's gone 28-3 with no losses against Class A competition. Last week at the Central A meet, he won four matches, only dropping one game, and along with Glendive's Josh Hill and Corvallis' Levi Pauley and Spencer Fehr, he's a strong favorite to add a singles title to his already impressive resume.
"Kyle has had a tremendous year," Ferguson said. "He's already had an amazing career. And he's ready to add to that. He's the best tennis player in Class A in my opinion. It's a bold statement I know, but he's really proved this season just how good he is. There are some really good players in his draw, no doubt about that. He's going to be challenged more than he has all season.
But I feel confident he's up to that challenge. Where he'll finish, who knows, but I know he'll play at a high level." But Miller isn't just a one-man show this weekend. The Ponies thrust themselves into trophy contention, along with favorites Corvallis and Billings Central, by advancing six players to this weekend's tournament. Sophomore Justin Jensen is the No. 3 seed from the Central A in singles and can't be overlooked. Neither can the young doubles team of Danny Roe and Brayden Grimson. The duo captured their first Central A title last weekend, and they are one of the top four seeds this week in Billings. Havre's depth is also aided by juniors Keenan Dolezal and Zach Cichosz, who won big matches to get to the state meet.
"I think we have a great boys team heading to state," Ferguson said. "And they don't have a lot of pressure on them. Other teams aren't expecting a lot from some of our kids. And that's OK. I know how good we are, and I know all of the kids we are taking are playing the best tennis of their lives right now. So no matter how the team points shake out this weekend, good things are going to happen for our kids.
I just know they'll play their best and give it their all. That's what HHS tennis is all about, win or lose." On the girls side, the Ponies have a target on their back.
Last season, Kinholt and Donovan beat McCann and Landgraf for the doubles championship, and in the process, the Ponies brought home their secondever state girls title.
Both teams are back this year, with Donovan and Kinholt having dropped just three matches all season. McCann and Landgraf have lost just twice, although McCann missed a portion of the season with a broken wrist. And while the formula is still the same for the Ponies, Ferguson said things are a little different this time around.
"We've tried to keep the pressure off those four kids," Ferguson said. "We haven't talked about what we did last season, and we haven't once said this year that we have to do the same thing in order for this season to be a success.
Success is defined by how those four play, and right now they are playing great tennis. They both had a great divisional weekend, and no matter what happens this week, I know they will play well.
"But they also have some challenges ahead of them," he added. "Polson did the same thing two years ago that we did last season, and teams have taken notice. This season, the deck has been stacked. There are a lot of really good doubles teams in this tournament.
But we also have two of the best. Whatever happens, I know we have two of the best doubles teams in the state, and I'm already so proud of what those four girls have already achieved in their careers. Not it's just time for them to go out and have one more great tournament, and I know the four of them are ready for that." But even more than what HHS did last season, the dynamic Pony doubles teams have a little more help this year in the form of junior Christina Mack.
Mack finished fourth at last week's Central A meet, and although she will have a difficult draw as a No. 4 seed, her presence in singles helps make HHS an instant trophy contender, along with Billings Central, Hamilton and Glendive.
"We are all so excited for Mack," Ferguson said. "She played so well last weekend, and she is very deserving of this opportunity. But I know she isn't just happy to be at state, she wants to play well and score points. That's just the type of competitor she is.
"I am just really excited for our girls team," he added. "They have really been focused and determined all year long, even the girls who didn't get to state, they've all just been great to work with this year. And the fact we have a chance to go down to Billings and be a trophy contender again this year, it says a lot about how hard these kids have worked and how dedicated they are to tennis and to our team. I'm just really excited to see how our girls do this week." The 2010 Class A state tournament will get underway at 8 a.m. Thursday in Billings. The tournament is slated to run through Friday afternoon.