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Pony netters look to trample the field

Havre High tennis teams excited for Class A state tourney

 

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

The Havre High senior doubles team of Kennedy McKay, left, and Trey Murphy are part of the eight Blue Ponies headed to the Class A state tournament, which runs Thursday and Friday in Polson and Ronan. Murphy and McKay are one of the top doubles teams in the state.

Every time in the last 17 years that the Class A state tennis tournament has been held in Polson, the Havre High tennis teams have come away with at least one trophy, and in some cases, two.

In 2018, the Blue Ponies are hoping for that Flathead Lake success to continue, as the Class A state tourney returns to Polson and Ronan Thursday and Friday.

Havre, under veteran head coach George Ferguson, is sending eight players to the state tournament, and while that may not seem like a lot, Ferguson said, once you reach state, it's not always quantity that matters.

"I am excited about the kids that have made it this far, and their chances this weekend," Ferguson said. "You always want to qualify as many kids as possible for state, but our divisional tournament was very tough again this year, and all 20 kids we took to Bozeman last week played amazing tennis and I was very proud of the entire team.

"But the eight that are going to state," he continued. "I think they're going to do great things this weekend. They've all accomplished a lot this season, and they are all peaking at the perfect time. They've done the work, they've put in the time and effort and heart. Now, all that's left to do is to go out and play their best and see where we are when Friday night comes."

The Havre boys will be led this weekend by the senior tandem of Trey Murphy and Kennedy McKay, the defending Central A champions, who are making their second straight state tournament appearance. The duo has been on a roll the second half of the season, having lost just two matches in the last month, and they bring a sparkling 27-3 record into state. And while the Class A doubles draw is always tough, Ferguson said the senior team is ready to challenge for a state championship.

"Trey and Kennedy's progress has been so much fun to watch," Ferguson said. "They came within a match of making it to state as sophomores, then they finish second to our top team at divisionals last year, and they gained valuable experience at state. But beyond that, the thing that's been most impressive about them is their work and dedication going into and during this season. They wanted to get better, they wanted to make sure that when their turn to be No. 1 came around that they made the most out of it, and they did that. They've had a great season, and they're going to have a great state tournament. They're going to be a force this weekend."

For the second year in a row, Havre also has the Central A runner-up in doubles in the draw, after senior Brady Ophus and sophomore Tyrel Kjersem made a run to the Central A championship match last week. Havre's depth at the state tournament is also bolstered by junior standout Tommy Brown, who finished third in singles at the Central A in Bozeman.

"When the season started, we played around with our lineup because we had so many kids who were new to the varsity," Ferguson said. "And we really found a spark with Brady and Tyrel playing together. They really fit well to together and have good chemistry on the court. And man, they got on a roll, and I think they're going to be really dangerous this weekend.

"Tommy Brown," he continued. "He knew he was going to play No. 1 singles this year, and it's been tough for him it times. With our schedule, he was playing a lot of really good, experienced players all year, and so he had to take some lumps. But you can see in the way he's playing right now, how much that's paid off for him. He's getting better and better every time he goes out there, and this experience at state is going to be a really good step in that process for him. He's playing really good tennis, and with a year left, he's only going to get better. So those three guys, I'm really proud of the progress they've made, and I'm really happy for them that they're playing this weekend."

As for the team title chase, Havre could be in the discussion, in what Ferguson considers a wide-open field. He says, Hardin, Dillon and Whitefish have the most depth in the field, while Butte Central could make a run as well. But he also says, with no truly dominant team in the tournament, that it's anyone's guess at this point.

"I've never tried to predict how things are going to unfold," Ferguson said. "I've always told our kids, just play your match. Worry about yourselves as individuals, play your best, and if you do that, the team points part is going to add up in the end anyway. I just want our kids to focus on one match at a time, and focus on playing good tennis. If they do that, we're going to be successful at the end of the weekend, and I think this boys team has a chance to be very successful. They're all playing really well right now."

Ferguson also thinks his three girls heading to state will find success, as well, including senior Paige Nelson, who is making her third straight state tournament appearance in singles. Nelson finished third at last weekend's Central A, but Ferguson insists, she's not a No. 3 seed type of player.

"Paige is as good as any player in the draw this week," he said. "She is extremely talented, and she's worked extremely hard on her game. The chips haven't always fallen her way in the past, and that's tennis. But now, in her last state tournament, the past doesn't matter. She can just go out and play free and loose, and see what happens. Paige is a very good tennis player, and she has a chance to really make some noise this weekend. But whatever happens, I'm just so proud of Paige because she's always battled, she's always fought through the adversity, and she's always been so dedicated. And I just know, good things are going to happen for her this weekend."

Joining Nelson in the girls tournament, which Ferguson says Livingston, Corvallis, Hardin and Polson should be favored, are juniors Marcee Murphy and Devyn Solomon in doubles. The duo came out of the Central A as Havre's No.2 team, and their only losses were to the top two teams from Livingston.

"Marcee and Devyn have made huge strides this year," Ferguson said. "And they really turned it on at divisionals. I think this tournament is going to be a great springboard for them into next season, but at the same time, like all of our qualifiers, they're playing their best tennis of the season, and I think they're going to be very dangerous in this draw. They're both very determined, and they're tough to beat because they are very consistent. So I wouldn't want to play them this weekend, that's for sure."

And playing their best is exactly what the eight Ponies are striving for at state. Again, Ferguson said, while team success is the ultimate goal, he also wants to see his players just seize the moment and, even more importantly, enjoy it.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

"State is so much fun," Ferguson said. "And I always tell the kids, you're one of the 16 best singles players or doubles teams left in the state now, so be confident, be proud of that. Being successful at state is about going out there and beleiving in yourself and having confidence. I already know our kids will give great effort because they always do. But if they can just go out there and relax and let themselves play their best, then great things will happen for them.

"But no matter what happens this weekend," Ferguson continued. "I'm already so proud of this team. These eight kids, and everybody in our program, has really worked hard this year, they've battled a ton of adversity, we've pushed them and worked them hard. So they have already had a great season in my book. And now, all that's left to do is, these eight kids need to go out and play the best they can and have a blast doing it. State is going to be a lot of fun, and I'm excited to watch our kids represent Havre High. They're going to do great."

The 2018 Class A state tournament starts Thursday in both Polson and Ronan. The tournament will conclude Friday in Polson.

 

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