Young Ponies have grown up
After a one-year hiatus, the Havre High girls basketball team is headed back to the Class A state tournament.
Havre High sophomore Brandy Lambourne and the Blue Ponies have surged into today's Class A state tournament. The Ponies face the Billings Central Rams this afternoon.
Now all that is left for the Ponies is a shot at the state title. And today-Saturday, the Ponies will be at the Butte Civic Center in Butte where they will compete against the rest of the Class A talent for a state title. This will be the fifth time out of the last six years the HHS girls have made the state tournament.
The last time the Ponies were in the state tournament (2009-2010 season) they were able to battle through a tough field for a No. 4 finish. And the last time the Ponies won the Class A tournament was in 1997, when they defeated Dillon 62-43.
Jaclyn Evans was a contributor as a sophomore on the last HHS state team, and is excited to make the trip after missing out last season.
"It feels great going back to state," HHS senior Jaclyn Evans said. "We were kind of an upset team my sophomore season, but this year we have really earned our way in. We went from such a high to a low not making state last year. But we were really young and inexperienced last year and we were really just new to playing with each other."
But just like every team, the Blue Ponies had their share of ups and downs. They house a very young squad, and inconsistency was something that reared its head every so often throughout the schedule.
After starting out 2-3 this season, the Ponies quickly turned things around with a five-game winning streak. Malta and CMR gave the Ponies early losses, but in the five game run, the Ponies earned key wins like a 55-53 win over the Browning Indians, a very important conference win. Then sitting at 7-3 overall, the Ponies were also 5-0 in conference to start the season.
But failing to play at a consistent level reappeared, as the Ponies win steak came to a halt. After defeating Belgrade 50-48 earlier in the season, the Panthers defeated the Ponies 53-37, a loss that was the start of a three-game losing streak. Fortunately for the Ponies, two of the three losses were to non conference opponents in the Class AA Great Falls High Bison and CMR Rustlers.
To end the season, the Ponies put together another great run, showing just what they were capable of when they play to their full potential.
With a 4-1 record in their final five games, the Blue Ponies put themselves in prime position heading into the postseason. Their biggest win down the stretch came in the final game of the season when they defeated the Indians 45-44 on a last-second shot, winning the regular season title outright.
From there, the Ponies were able to use their No. 1 seeding in the conference tournament to win the conference title and punch their ticket into the state tournament.
"We had to work on the little things," Peyton Filius said. "And get better every game. We had to work on things like boxing out and free throws. We stuck with it all season and had to keep positive (as we found our consistency), and everybody just had to focus on basketball. Everybody suffers ups and downs and we just had to keep going.
"That win (over Browning) was huge," Brandy Lambourne added. "It gave us a lot of confidence going into the divisional tournament and we really had to focus and come together and communicate. It was an amazing feeling (winning the divisional title), that doesn't happen too often."
From start to finish, the Ponies showed they had a lot of potential. With just two seniors (Jaclyn Evans and Sammy Evans) on the roster this season, players and fans knew it was just a matter of time before the team finally began to click on all cylinders. And with a roster loaded with talent, nevertheless it being young talent, that is exactly what this Ponies team did.
Neya Bischoff, Filius, Lambourne, Morgan Mazurkiewicz, Chanal Standing Rock and Lacey Waid really stepped up their game this year, as did Kaylie Gilman and Mary Lyons, who also saw good varsity minutes off and on. And while the majority of the young group didn't have much or any varsity experience until this season, they all did well in accepting their roles and playing Blue Pony style basketball.
"We are all really close," Filius said. "So that really helps us. We have a bond on and off the court and we try to be focused every time we play. Being close just makes it easier to play good basketball.
"Everybody knows their role," Jaclyn Evans added, speaking firsthand after switching from a guard to a post player this season. "We were a little unsure in the beginning, we got better in the middle of the season, and by divisionals everybody knew their role. It took everybody to step up, especially our younger kids."
Standing Rock was a transfer this season, and was a nice addition, averaging nearly 10 points and four rebounds per game. Filius isn't far behind with her almost nine points per game, and team high 37 assists. Lambourne has also carried her weigh with seven points per game and team high 48 steals, as have both Jaclyn and Sammy Evans, combining for 12 points per game. Freshman Mazurkiewicz has also seen her minutes increase and has averaged nearly five points per game, shooting 38 percent from 2-point range and 34 percent from 3-point range.
"Last year I watched the team play and I wanted to be out there and help the team out," Mazurkiewicz said. "I practiced a lot this summer, and whether it was getting people water or pushing people in practice, I just wanted to do whatever I could to help. I didn't think I would (get this much playing (time), I wanted it, but I just worked hard and pushed my teammates to be better."
It has been the Ponies' high- tempo style of play that has led to their success this season. They run the floor on offense and press the ball on defense. It is key for them to control the pace, as well as hang onto the ball and score from all areas of the floor, in transition and from set plays.
All in all, the Ponies can beat a team many different ways.
HHS was third in the league with 48 points per game this season, but was also first in the league with points allowed. The Ponies allowed an average of 43.4 points per game. The Ponies proved they can score points, but can also keep the opposition from scoring. In a win over Conrad, the Ponies posted 68 points, while in wins over Lewistown and Livingston, the Ponies held the opposition to 23 and 26 points respectively.
So whether the Ponies are in a full court press, zone or man on defense, or whether they are pushing the tempo or running the clock on offense, the Ponies succeed with good, solid, team basketball. When the team is on the court communicating, on the same page, and having fun, that is when they are successful. And this weekend at the state tournament, the Ponies will look to do just that.
Havre High tips off against Billings Central this afternoon at the Class A state tournament in Butte.