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Pony Power ready to hit the courts

Havre High tennis teams looking forward to an exciting season

 

Last updated 3/24/2017 at 11:25am

Shannon Hanson

Megan Lindbloom and the Havre High boys and girls tennis teams begin their new season at Saturday's Cut Bank Invitational. The Blue Ponies also have their home meet in just two weeks.

The Havre High boys and girls tennis teams have had a lot of success, really, going on for two decades now. And when each new spring dawns, two things remain constants — the Blue Ponies will find success on the court, and, longtime head coach George Ferguson will be there to help guide them.

Ferguson enters his 15th season at the helm of the Pony tennis program. Under his guidance, Havre has collected over 20 boys and girls Central A team titles, a combined five Class A state team titles and 18 combined trophies from the state tournament, as well as countless individual Central A and Class A champions.

But while the success the Ponies have enjoyed under Ferguson has been stout, he says, it’s not why he continues to enjoy coaching tennis.

“I just love coaching this sport, and in particular, our kids,” Ferguson said. “I’m a Blue Pony. We have great kids here at Havre High. We have a great school, and it’s the kids who make this program what it is. It’s very special to me, and I’m just as excited for this season, as I was my very first.”

This season begins Saturday for the Ponies, who will travel to the annual Cut Bank Invitational. However, the HHS teams have been hard at work since March 13 and have endured some tough weather days to get ready for their season-opener.

“The kids have worked really hard. Collectively, they’re a great group,” Ferguson said. “Our numbers are really good. We have a lot of returning talent, lots of exciting underclassmen, and a great group of freshmen and newcomers. But what I really love about these kids is their enthusiasm. They’ve come to practice every day really excited about tennis, about learning the sport and about getting better at it. That enthusiasm, to coaches, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Ferguson shares their enthusiasm, too.

His Blue Pony boys team is coming off its third straight third-place trophy at the Class A state tournament. And while Havre will certainly miss the services of one of the all-time HHS greats in Jeff Miller, as well as veteran doubles player Jerod Boles, the Ponies do have all the makings of a team poised for another run at hardware, including what would be a 14th Central A team title in Ferguson’s 15 seasons at the helm.

Leading the way for the Pony boys is a strong group of seniors, including four-year varsity standouts Jake Sedahl and Nate Korb, who will team up in doubles. The duo did so as freshmen, but have had different partners since. Sedahl and Boles won the Central A title and placed fifth at state last year in Bozeman.

Fellow seniors Dustin Haas and Trey Hanson will man singles spots for the Ponies, with Haas coming back from an appearance at state as a junior. Havre also has a strong junior group, led by Trey Murphy and Kennedy McKay, now entering their third year as a doubles team. Brady Ophus is also back and will likely play doubles with sophomore Tommy Brown. Brown is a sophomore who played varsity a season ago, and Ferguson said he will have a big role this season, while Kendall Holden and Vander Swensen are also returning juniors who have seen their share of varsity action.

“Our returners, our seniors and juniors, those guys have a ton of experience now,” Ferguson said. “They’ve been a part of a lot of success over the years, and they’re going to lead us this season. They’re all good tennis players, and, it’s really nice to have that much experience and leadership. So they give our boys team a really solid foundation.”

Ferguson is excited about his turnout of new boys in the program as well, in particular two seniors in Jase Stokes and Bobby Personett. Both are in their first and only year of tennis, but Ferguson noted that both have already made big strides, and will certainly help the Ponies this season. The coach also said sophomores Josiah Harrison and Jack Johnsrud are progressing, too, while his freshman group, with Jake Huston, Tyrel Kjersam, Noah Nitz, Jacob Miller, Reece Bulkey, Torek Swensen, Joey Bender, John South and Eric Harrison is one of the biggest freshman classes he’s had in some time, and that is another reason to be enthusiastic.

“Our boys, as far as new guys go, it’s huge,” Ferguson said. “I’m so excited about that group. They are great kids, good athletes and they’re getting better and learning more and more every day. I look at that group, all the sophomores and freshmen, and I see the future of our program, and it’s so exciting.”

With 23 boys out, Ferguson said the varsity lineup could be fluid for some of the season. It’s based on head-to-head competition, and he said he wouldn’t be surprised to see things change as the season goes on. As for his boys team overall, he said he’s looking forward to seeing how far they can take this season because even though there is a lot of experience there, much of his team will be in new roles this year.

“Some of the guys that are going to be our big guns, our top point scorers this season, that role will be new for them,” Ferguson said. “But they’re all more than capable of doing it. I think the potential for this team is sky-high. We have, from top to bottom, a great group of boys, who just seem to really enjoy the game, and they enjoy working hard and getting better at it. And to me, that’s a formula for success right there. So I have high hopes for this boys team for sure. I think they’ll do great things.”

The coach feels the exact same way about his girls team. The Ponies don’t have a single senior on the roster this year, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be devoid of experience, and they’re certainly not lacking in talent. In many places, that talent will come from some new faces, and in a lot of different roles, including in doubles where Ferguson graduated longtime tandems Rainey Stoner and Madison Huebsch and Alara Vogel and Reggie Bernard.

“It’s unusual to not have a senior,” Ferguson said. “But, it’s also interesting because conceivably, you’ve got the potential to have virtually the same team for two straight years. So you really know exactly what you can aim for. But even without seniors, we have veteran kids, we have three juniors who have played varsity from the first day of their freshman season, and a bunch of other juniors who have a ton of experience. So we have plenty of kids who have been there and done that, and those girls will be our leaders now.”

The returning juniors include Paige Nelson, who reached the Class A state tournament a year ago and will be not only Havre’s No. 1 singles player, but one of the top players in the Central A. Alex Donaldson and Megan Lindbloom are also back for their third year of varsity play, as is Baylee Miller, who has seen a ton of doubles action over her first two seasons at HHS. Katie Donaldson returns as well, and will likely team up with her twin sister in doubles. Marca Herron is another veteran junior, but is currently out of Havre’s lineup with an illness.

And, that lineup will have a lot of sophomores in it too, most likely. That’s because last year, Ferguson had a huge freshman class, and a year later, that class is ready to move into a much bigger role. The group includes Kadyn Acor, who won a match at the Central A playing No. 4 singles last spring, as well as Marcee Murphy, Devyn Solomon, Teagan Fee, Mckenzie Tommerup, Brynn Nault and Tiffany Ralph.

“That group of sophomores, I told them at the end of last season, they were going to have a bright future in our program,” Ferguson said. “Well, the future is now for those girls. They are all going to play important roles on this team this season, in singles and doubles. And I’ll just say, I’m really looking forward to it because they are all very passionate about Blue Pony tennis. They really put a lot of effort and time into preparing for this season because they knew they were going to have this opportunity. And we’re going to have a very strong team because of that.”

The future continues to look bright, too, because like on the boys side, Ferguson is very excited about his newcomers on the girls team. Sophomore Kassidy Compton, and freshmen Cassidy Acor, Kyndall Keller, Angela Rhines and Carsyn Vogel make up the group of newcomers, and all of them are making huge strides according to Fergsuon.

“It’s a great group,” Ferguson said. “They are going to only make us better, not just in the future, but right now. All of those kids are learning at a fast rate, and it’s only going to make us a deeper and stronger girls team.

“Because of that depth, I think this season, and beyond, is going to be great for our girls,” Ferguson said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun watching this team progress, and it’s going to be a very dangerous team when May rolls around. I’m really excited about this girls team.”

And May is always the goal. Ferguson’s formula is always to build toward the postseason. He says March and April are more about growth and experience, than the months are about wins and losses. But, he also says, because of that, when May, and the Central A Divisional tournament, which will be played in Bozeman, and the Class A state tournament, which will be held in Kalispell, roll around, his teams will be beyond ready.

“I’ve always emphasized that whatever success we’re going to have, it’s going to be earned in practice,” Ferguson said. “Tennis is about repetition and committing to muscle memory, and you do that in practice. So we work hard, we build and build and build over the course of these first two months. On the weekends, we want to take that work in practice into competition and just be better week-to-week, win or lose. And make sure we’re having fun, that’s a big thing. If we do that, if we work as hard as we can every day in practice, and compete as hard as we can in every meet, then when those two really big tournaments come in May, we will be successful, individually and as a team.

“And it’s already started,” he continued. “These kids are giving us 110 percent every day. They are coming to practice and getting better every day, and they are enthusiastic about it, and as a coach I’m already very proud of all of them, and because of how great these kids are to work with, this is going to be a really fun season.”

The fun begins for Havre Saturday in Cut Bank. The Blue Ponies also have an exciting home meet in two weeks, when they host Hardin and Belgrade in duals April 7, and welcome in the Bulldogs and Panthers, as well as Lewistown, Cut Bank and Conrad the following day for the annual Havre Invitational.

 

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