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Postseason is now for Blue Pony netters

All season long, the members of the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams have been fighting bad weather, cancellations and tough opponents.

But the Blue Pony players have done so knowing it's all about a process, and that process is building towards playing their best tennis at the Central A Divisional tennis tournament.

And now the time has come to make the process pay off because the postseason is here and the Central A tourney gets under way this afternoon in Bozeman.

"This what the kids have worked for all year, and for some of them, it goes back to last summer and last season, and beyond that," Havre High head coach George Ferguson said. "This is their time to play their best tennis and to take a shot at joining all of the history our programs have had at this tournament. And I'm excited for all of our kids."

And Havre does have plenty of history at the Central A. In just Ferguson's nine-plus years as head coach, the Pony boys have won eight of nine Central A titles, including a dramatic, 3-point edge over Butte Central last season. The HHS girls have also won six Central A championships in the last nine years, and though they were, and still are, a young team, they are certainly a contender again this week.

On the boys side, the Ponies will up against a strong Livingston team. The Rangers have won of the top singles players in the conference, as well as two solid doubles teams. Havre's top rival, Lewistown, also has three strong doubles teams, as well as a solid No. 1 singles. Newcomer Anaconda is the wildcard. The Copperheads are in their first year of boys tennis, and the team is surprisingly strong. Butte Central has since moved to the Southwest A.

"It's going to be a dogfight," Ferguson said. "Livingston probably has one of the best boys teams they've ever had. Lewistown is certainly capable of stealing points, and for a first-year program, I was really impressed with Anaconda. I think this tournament is going to come right down to the last few matches. And I think where we can make the biggest difference is our depth. We have very capable players throughout our lineup."

The Ponies are a senior-oriented boys team. No. 1 singles player Justin Jensen (15-8) has finished third and second at the Central A in the last two years, and he'll be one of the top two seeds in this weekend's tournament. The senior doubles tandem of Brayden Grimson and Simon McCann (5-2) haven't played together long, but they are the favorite going into this tournament. Senior Blaine Grisak has three years of Central A experience under his belt, and he'll team with junior Nick Rhines (5-3) in doubles, while senior Bill Wagner (14-2) has played in two Central A meets and will be a tough out in singles.

"We have a lot of kids who've been here before," Ferguson said. "We have strong leadership and experience on our boys team. Justin definitely has a chance to win this tournament, and so does Simon and Brayden. They are right there. I think Blaine Grisak and Nick Rhines are also right there and on the verge. If they play well, they will be on that bus to the state tournament, I have no doubt."

The rest of the HHS lineup includes sophomores Ned Malone (15-9) at No. 2 singles and Zach Hellegaard No. 3 singles (3-1). Junior J.J. Hovet and sophomore Brian Smith (12-9) will team up to play No. 3 doubles. Both Malone and Hellegaard won critical matches at last year's Central A, so they too have plenty of experience.

"I think we have the deepest team, and the best collection of tennis players in this week's field," Ferguson said. "But that's only part of it. The key is for each player or doubles team to stay focused on just the match they are playing. To play with confidence and to be playing their best tennis at the right time. If our kids do that, we'll be in very good shape come Saturday afternoon."

The HHS girls are probably an underdog to the two-time defending champion Livingston Rangers, but Ferguson is by no means counting his team out. Lewistown is also a strong contender, but he likes where his girls team is at heading into today's action.

"Our girls team, with no seniors, has come a long, long way this season," Ferguson said. "I think we've found the right lineup, I think our sophomore class has really come on strong and I think we're peaking right now. I really like their chances this week. And I'm really proud of just how hard our girls team has worked to give themselves this opportunity."

The youthful Ponies are a very balanced group.

Havre's No. 1 doubles tandem of Lainey Chagnon and Jennifer Cichosz (0-2) may not have played many matches together, but Ferguson says they're an instant contender this week. So too are top singles players Brandy Lambourne (13-10) and Jade McCormick (3-3). Lambourne has played No. 1 for Havre for most of the season and has been impressive. McCormick recently moved to singles and is making strides. She's also a veteran player who went to the state meet in doubles last season with Cichosz.

And whe

Havre Daily News/Daniel Horton

Havre High senior Brayden Grimson hits a forehand volley during the 2012 Havre Invitational tennis tournament last month in Havre.

re Havre can really make up ground is in doubles because the sophomore duos of Breck Don and Ellery Bresler (17-7) and Haley Graham and Morgan Jappe (14-10) have really made huge advances in their games this season.

"We may not have any seniors and we may not have a lot of kids with a ton of experience at this tournament, but we have is some real depth this season," Ferguson said. "When we've been at our very best and winning state championships, we've had multiple strong girls doubles teams, and we certainly have that this year. I am really proud and impressed with what Breck, Ellery, Haley and Morgan have already achieved this season. Those four have really helped make us the strong team that we are."

Rounding out Havre's lineup will be two more strong, young competitors in sophomore Shannon Herring (15-10) and freshman Tatiana Ralph (9-6).

"I believe our girls team has a chance to do very well this weekend," Ferguson said. "They have really come on strong. All four singles players can win matches this weekend, and I think you're going to see players like Brandy and Jade really have an impact on this tournament. And of course, I'm feeling very confident about where we're at in doubles.

"I'm really confident in all 10 girls we're taking this weekend," he added. "And while we want to do our best and get as many girls to state as possible, one of the great things about this tournament is all 10 of these girls will come back and do it again next year, as even stronger players. So I'm really excited for our girls team."

And confidence is a key word for both Blue Pony teams. The postseason is win or go home and Havre has plenty of experience when it comes to winning at the Central A. Ferguson feels like this weekend could be another one like the others.

"Our kids just need to be focused and determined," he said. "And they have been all season so I think you'll see that again this weekend. I think all 20 players have a chance to accomplish a lot this weekend. Just what that might be, I'm not sure. But if we are peaking like I think we are, and they all play their games, this weekend will be a special one for Havre tennis. I'm just really excited for all of our kids and I can't wait for them to go out and play their best. It's going to be a great tournament."

The 2012 Central A divisional begins this afternoon and runs through Friday evening. Weather issues could force the tournament into Saturday. All play will be at the Bozeman High courts. The top four boys and girls singles players, and top four boys and girls doubles teams will advance to next week's Class A state tournament in Great Falls.


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