Pony tennis teams overcame obstacles
Some people might say the way the season ended for both the Havre High girls and boys tennis teams may have been out of the norm. Some might say the Blue Ponies didn't excel in the ways they normally do on the tennis court.
But longtime Havre High head coach George Ferguson couldn't disagree with those people more. In fact, Ferguson looks at every year as a success story, whether his team's earn trophies or not.
"The biggest thing I gauge success by is, did our kids improve, are they better players than they were last year, or at the beginning of the season? And the answer to this season is an emphatic yes," Ferguson said. "I want our players to be enthusiastic about the game of tennis, to be proud to play tennis for Havre High, and above all else, to have fun doing it. And we were all of those things this season.
Havre Daily News/Daniel Horton
Havre High junior Brayden Grimson swipes a forehand during the 2011 Class A state tennis tournament last month in Great Falls.
"It's true, we didn't score as many points as we have in the past at state, but that's not the be-all end-all in my opinion. The kids that went to state played well, they gave it everything they had, left it all on the court and have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about," Ferguson continued. "Our kids worked very hard to continue the tradition of excellence in our program this year and I'm proud of every one of them for the season we just had."
The Havre boys remained strong despite season-ending injuries to outstanding doubles players Danny Roe and Zach Cichosz. They also remained strong, winning yet another Central A championship despite starting three freshman at divisionals and taking three doubles teams that were completely different than the team had a year ago.
The Ponies got a second-place finish from the tandem of Brayden Grimson and Keenan Dolezal in doubles at a divisional meet that was moved from Lewistown to Bozeman and played deep into the night for two days. Havre's Justin Jensen also excelled, finishing second in singles. The trio earned the Ponies three points at the Class A state meet a week later.
But as excited as Ferguson was for his veteran players this year, he was equally excited about the youth movement on his boys team.
Freshmen Ned Malone, Zach Hellegaard and Trey Brown played varsity all season long and were all integral parts of Havre's divisional championship. Sophomore Nick Rhines also teamed with junior Billy Wagner to help bolster the Ponies' doubles teams, while junior Blaine Grisak stepped up and tied for fifth in singles at the divisional meet. Simon McCann, another veteran player for the Ponies also stepped up this year, teaming with Brown to solidify HHS's doubles lineup. Havre's depth was solid too, as players like Jacob Holden, J.J. Hovet and John Gardipee all helped the Pony varsity squad this season.
"Our boys team had a totally different look to it this season," Ferguson said. "We still had some so-called big guns, like Brayden, Keenan, Simon, Justin and Blaine, and they all did an outstanding job leading us. But we also had to fill spots with a lot of kids who had little or no varsity experience. And I thought those kids did a tremendous job for us. Our freshmen really made big strides as the season went along, and the sophomores and juniors really stepped up and made us a strong team.
"And that paid off for us at divisionals," he added. "I think some people looked at us as a team who might even finish third this year, and yet there we were, with the trophy at the end of it all. That's a testament to all of our boys really digging in their heels and working hard to get better throughout the year. I think our boys team really embraced the Blue Pony tennis tradition, and it showed at the end of the season. And with how young we were, the team coming back next year should be even stronger. So to me, our boys program is right where it should be and I'm really proud of all of the kids on this team for what they accomplished this season."
If the Blue Pony boys were young in spots this spring, the HHS girls were even younger.
By the divisional meet, the Havre varsity roster had three seniors, three sophomores and four freshman. The Ponies also had five players on the girls team who had never played at the divisional meet before. And while Havre seniors Christina Mack, who went on two win a pair of matches at the state tournament, as well as Danielle Faechner and Teresa Buerkle led the way, the youngsters on the HHS girls team proved the future is more than bright on the Blue Pony courts.
"Our three seniors girls were tremendous this season," Ferguson said. "Christina Mack had an outstanding final year and she went out playing the best tennis of her career. Her contributions to our program, as well as Teresa and Danielle's, can't be overlooked, and they will all be missed.
"But what our sophomores and freshmen did this season is nothing short of remarkable," he added. "Lainey Chagnon really grew up this year as a full-time singles player, and of course, Jade McCormick and Jennifer Cichosz made a huge leap by getting to and playing well at the state tournament. And we really had seven freshmen out this year and all of them have a bright future in our program. So I'm really excited about where our girls program ended the season and where the team is headed in 2012."
While Ferguson is excited about where his tennis teams are headed as the program moves from 2011 to 2012, he's also not lost on the fact of what they endured this season. Havre had two meets cancelled at the beginning of the season, the Ponies rarely played in temperatures above 50 degrees outside, they practiced in even worse conditions during the week, and even the state and divisional meets were hampered by rain, wind and cold weather.
"Weather-wise, this was the worst I've seen it in my eight years, and I never experienced anything like it when I was a player," Ferguson said. "And yet our kids came to practice and came to every meet with a great attitude. They were excited about tennis and they really put forth great effort all year despite the tough weather. So I don't think I've ever been more proud of a team for its attitude and work ethic. The kids were tremendous all season long and they gave our program everything they had day in and day out. This was a great team to coach, and I enjoyed being around this group all year.
"So, for me, this season was a success story," he added. "Our kids are all better tennis players than they were a year ago, and we have two very strong teams coming back next year. And they are all great student-athletes who represented Havre High extremely well all season long. So I'm very proud of this team and the spring they just had."