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Ponies take the next step in Cut Bank

The Havre High tennis teams are making big strides so far this spring. In fact, head coach George Ferguson said his team right on track. But, weather permitting, the Blue Ponies are about to embark on the most challenging portion of their schedule.

And it starts Friday and Saturday at the Class A Duals in Cut Bank. The annual two-day meet will pit the Blue Ponies against five quality teams including four Class A rivals. On Friday, the Ponies will battle Polson, Hardin and Libby, while they'll take on Lewistown and host Cut Bank on Saturday.

Havre High junior Brian Smith hits a backhand during last Saturday's Havre Invitational. The Blue Pony tennis teams are in Cut Bank Friday-Saturday for the Class A Invite.

"This meet is where the competition always goes to the next level," Ferguson said. "The five matches will play the next two days will really be an indicator of how competitive we are at our own level of tennis.

"This year in particular, Polson has very strong girls and boys teams," he added. "Their girls are the defending state champions and have a good chance to repeat. Hardin is also strong on both sides, while Libby's boys are pretty solid. And we know we are very even with Lewistown and Cut Bank already. So our kids are going to be tested all weekend, and this will be a great barometer for both our teams."

Weather and absences may play a factor in how Havre does on the court however. It's District Music Festival week for HHS, so Ferguson's teams will be jockeying positions some, and missing some kids all together throughout the weekend. The weather forecast for Cut Bank is also somewhat shaky for Friday and Saturday, so getting all five matches in may be a challenge.

Never-the-less, Ferguson said his team appears ready to take the next step in a season which will really speed up over the coming weeks.

"We are going to be very busy against some very good competition over the next month," Ferguson said. "And it starts with these duals in Cut Bank. It would be really nice if the weather holds up, and as far as our music kids, we'll work with the schedule the best we can.

"No matter what, our goals haven't changed," he added. "We are continuing to work on improvement. We should be seeing faster improvement now that we're five weeks into the season, but at the same time, getting better is still our primary focus. And we know that if we continue to do that, and play our best each time out, the wins will come anyway. So that's all we're worried about again this weekend, just making sure we play better than we did the week before."

Despite some kids juggling music and tennis this weekend, Havre's varsity lineup will mostly be intact. On the girls side, Brandy Lambourne and Jade McCormick are coming off a strong Havre Invitational in singles, while Lainey Chagnon and Jennifer Cichosz and Breck Don and Ellery Bresler both placed in doubles. The Ponies will also get back Haley Graham, who missed last week, and she'll team with Morgan Jappe, while Shannon Herring and Tatiana Ralph play the No. 3 and No. 4 singles spots, respectively. "Our girls team is progressing like I hoped they would," Ferguson said. "We're certainly showing our strength in doubles, but with the way Brandy, Jade and Shannon all played last weekend, I think our depth is really starting to take shape. And playing Polson and Hardin will be a really good test for our girls team, and no matter what happens in those duals, we'll be better in the long run."

On the boys side, seniors Nick Rhines and J.J. Hovet continue to impress at No. 1 doubles, while Jeff Miller and Ned Malone are a strong pair in singles. Brian Smith and Noah Landgraf are set at No. 2 doubles, while Zach Hellegaard is a strong No. 3 singles player for the Ponies. Ferguson continues to experiment with the rest of his lineup. Senior Jacob Holden will play the No. 4 singles spot this week, while Wyatt Lindbloom and Jerod Boles will play No. 3 doubles. Sophomore Jamie Lieberg will also see action, possibly in both singles and doubles.

"Our boys are coming along," Ferguson said. "We're not as far along as the girls, but that's mostly due to youth and experience. And we really haven't found the exact 10-man team we're looking for yet either. But that's fine right now. Every week is a new experience for these guys and this weekend will be another one, because we'll be pretty evenly matched against every team we face and it will be really good competition for our kids."

And competition is what Ferguson is most excited about. Over the first three weeks of the season, the Ponies see only Conrad, Cut Bank and Lewistown. And while all three teams are very competitive, this trip to Cut Bank gives the Ponies a chance to face some new challengers.

"It's an exciting weekend," Ferguson said. "This is the start of the second part of our season. And we face a lot of new faces and unfamiliar teams, and that will ultimately help our progress and the goals we're working towards. So I'm really excited for these next five matches, and looking forward to seeing how our kids do."

Havre will face Polson Friday morning, then Hardin and Libby in the afternoon. The Ponies will return to Cut Bank Saturday to square off against Lewistown and Cut Bank.


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