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Pony girls aim to march on in the Central A

Unbeaten Havre High visits Livingston, Belgrade


January 19, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Ryen Olson and the Havre High girls basketball team looks to stay perfect on the season when the Blue Ponies play at Livingston tonight, and Belgrade Saturday.

Kyndall Keller has been dynamite for the Havre High girls basketball team in her sophomore season with the Blue Ponies. But for now at least, the Ponies are going to have to find a way to keep winning games without her.

That's because Keller, who suffered an ankle injury in last Friday's win over Browning, will miss this weekend's games against Livingston and Belgrade, meaning the 10-0 Ponies will try to keep their undefeated streak alive without their leading scorer. HHS will hit the road to take on Livingston tonight at 7:30, before heading to Belgrade to take on the Panthers Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

"She's going to be out," HHS head coach Dustin Kraske said of Keller. "We just want to let her heal."

Certainly, Havre will miss Keller and her 20 points per game scoring average, but the Ponies are undefeated for a reason and it's not because they are a one-woman show.

"It's not going to change anything we do," Kraske said. "We are going to count on everybody. We aren't going to do anything specific, it's all about how we are going to be guarded. Everyone is just going to have to keep playing. I don't think we need to do anything different, I think everyone on our team has been playing pretty well, so we just need to take the shots that we get, play well defensively and do what we do."

Kraske said he wasn't sure who would take Keller's spot in the starting lineup, but did say it would be either Kyley Verploegen or fellow senior Ryen Olson. Verploegen has averaged 4.9 points and five rebounds off the bench this season, while Olson has scored 4.1 points. She is also third on the team with nine 3-pointers and a shooting percentage of 30 from beyond the arc.

Filling the void offensively will be one of the first priorities for the Ponies, but maintaining their excellence defensively will be even more important. Havre is leading Class A in points allowed by a wide margin coming into the week, giving up just 32.1 per game. That's four points better than Hamilton, which is second at 36.2 points allowed.

HHS is one of just three teams giving up less than 40 points a game but is also the only team in the state that is averaging more than 60 a game on offense. The Ponies are currently averaging 63.7 ppg, but even if you take out Keller's 20 points, Havre would still average 43.7, which is better than 12 teams in Class A. The Ponies also scored 57 points in a road win over No. 4 Browning last Friday, a game that saw Keller exit in the first quarter.

The focal points for Havre offensively will likely be seniors Danielle Wallace and Marca Herron. Wallace (10.7 ppg) is the second-leading scorer for the Ponies, followed by Herron, who is averaging 7.4 points per game and making 44 percent of her shots from 3-point range. Kadia Miller and Kaylee Nystrom are other key contributors, along with Kylie Walker and Katie Wirtzberger.

Awaiting the Ponies tonight in Livingston, is a Rangers team that is 0-3 in the Central A and 3-7 overall. Livingston has the third-worst defense in Class A, allowing 53.9 points a night, but scores just 45.1. Kodie Vondra leads the Rangers in scoring with 11.2 points. The other threat is Danielle Babcox, who scores 7.7 points and grabs 8.2 rebounds.

On Saturday, Havre will face Belgrade, a much more formidable opponent. Belgrade is 5-4 overall and 1-1 in the Central A. The Panthers, who made the state tournament a season ago, are Havre's closest contender in the Central A and could make the race for first in the league a legitimate one, if they can upset the third-ranked Ponies Saturday.

Belgrade also has two of the top scorers in Class A on its side in Gabby Weber (13.7 ppg) and Kiah Hohenstein (13.1 ppg). Yet, the Panthers are middle of the road defensively, ranking 14th in Class with an average of 47.2 points allowed.

"These are two very important games," Kraske said. "If one of the kids' goals is to win the league, which I know it is, these are two games that we need to win. I think both teams have gotten better. I think we have, too. So we are expecting two really good games in a row. Our kids have had a really good week of practice, but our mental preparation needs to be really good because the scores in December are irrelevant. Big conference weekend for us."

The Ponies will open the weekend tonight against Livingston at 7:30. Havre will then tip off against Belgrade Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Both games are on the road.


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