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On to state: Ponies take on Rams

Obviously, the road to the state tournament is never easy. It takes a lot of preparation and a whole team buying into what the program is trying to do. The Havre High girls basketball team may be relatively young this season, but what they have already accomplished with one weekend still left in their season shows that they are all in.

With just two seniors on the roster this season, the Central A Blue Ponies have rolled right along. They have had some bumps and bruises a long the way, but still prevailed, earning the regular season title as well as the Central A tournament title.

This will be the fifth time the Ponies made the state tournament in the last six years. They missed out last season, but finished fourth two years ago.

This year the Ponies earned an 11-7 record overall through the regular season and a league leading 7-1 in the conference. But after the divisional tournament, the Ponies now sit at 13-7 overall heading into this weekend's State A basketball tournament at the Butte Civic Center in Butte. The tournament will run Thursday-Saturday.

"Our kids are fired up," Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. "They have had a great two weeks of practice and we are looking forward to going down and playing. It should be good stuff, our league and our non conference schedule has prepared us well and we are excited to play, it should be fun."

Havre High's Chanel Standing Rock and the Blue Ponies will open the 2012 Class A state tournament on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. against the Billings Central Rams in Butte. For more on the Ponies see, Thursday's Havre Daily News.

But leading up to the state tournament, the Ponies had to fight through their share of setbacks.

At one point the Ponies dropped three straight games, including a surprising 53-37 loss to the conference rival Belgrade Panthers. The other two losses came to two very good Great Falls and CMR programs in non league play. But after the Ponies started out the season 0-2, they took their lumps and more importantly, continued to grow. Despite the losing streak and disappointing losses, the Ponies also showed the importance of learning and growing from every game, especially the non conference games.

"Those games put you in situations where if you don't play well the other team exposes that," Kraske said. "It gives us an opportunity to teach and learn from that and to grow and get better. Our kids have done that throughout the course of our 18 game schedule and has put us in a nice situation here at the end, where we are striving to play our best basketball the last weekend of the season.

"I think not having things go your way happens," Kraske added. "But our kids did a nice job to learn through that. We learned and moved on and it only made us stronger. The kids have really bought into the defense we need to play and the offense we need to play to be successful. And our kids have done a nice job of buying into the fact that they have to play together and what their role is on this team. They have done their roles quite well and that has allowed us to have the kind of success we had two weekends ago (at the Central A divisional tournament)."

To close out the regular season, the Ponies overcame another tight loss. This time it was Conrad who defeated the Ponies 40-39, but in the final game of the regular season the Ponies rebounded nicely, defeating the Browning Indians 45-44 to take the title outright.

When the Ponies were playing well, they proved to be one of the top teams in the Class A. Their style on offense and defense is a lot of times too much for teams to handle, and the young talent has really stepped up this seasons.

On offense the Ponies have many different speeds, but seem to be in full control with a higher tempo of play. They have outside shooters in Peyton Filius, Brandy Lambourne, Chanal Standing Rock and Morgan Mazurkiewicz who can also penetrate. But at the same time, the Ponies also have talented post players in Neya Bischoff, Sammy Evans and Jaclyn Evans who can score in the paint.

And on defense, the Ponies are just as tough. They have many different faces and really hurt teams with their five on five defense. Their constant pressure and almost pestering like style, really gets after teams, forcing key turnovers and resulting in transition offense.

But now the pieces have to come together once again, as the Ponies hopefully keep their improved and consistent play moving forward.

"That will be the difference in having success and not," Kraske said. "Our kids know we need to play like we're practicing and they need to understand that though this is the state tournament, it doesn't make the games more difficult mentally to prepare for. We are ne of eight teams left to play and we need to keep doing what we have been doing to be successful. Our kids have to play like they have all year, they can't try to do too much just because they are at state. This is a new team and a new season so we just have to play how we play."

The first hurdle will be the Billings Central Rams, a No. 2 seed with championship talent.

The Rams are very similar to the Ponies in their offensive and defensive style. This could benefit the Ponies if they make sure to keep the tempo where they like it, as they play very well in these types of situations.

"They (Rams) are a good team all around and we will have our hands full," Kraske said. "They will be ready to go, but I think our kids will be ready to go as well. I am looking forward to watching two very good teams play each other.'

Kayla Lucas, Allie Lucas, Justyn Juhl and Sammy Elliott have seemingly led the Rams this season, and will most likely do so again this weekend. Elliot runs the offense as a very talented point guard, but Juhl seems to have much of the offense go through her. Juhl is a dominating post player who can take over a game, with her offensive boards especially.

"They have some quality kids and we look forward to playing against them," Kraske said. "They are very balanced."

The Ponies will open up the state tournament on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. when they take on Billings Central in first round action at the Butte Civic Center.

Follow the Blue Ponies with the Havre Daily

Fans can follow Havre High all the way through this week's Class A state tournament with live updates from Butte at and on Twitter at twitter/havredaily.


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