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5 things to watch in local volleyball

 

August 9, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Cassidy Acor, who is going to be a junior at Havre High this year, rises up to strike a ball in a volleyball match against Lewistown last fall inside the HHS gymnasium. Acor is just one of a few promising young players who returns for a Havre team hoping to bounce back from a tough 2017 season.

As the dog days of summer start beating down on Havre and the Hi-Line, it can mean only one thing, school is about to start, and that also means that the start of the fall sports season is right around the corner.

In fact, practice opens this week for teams from along the Hi-Line, who are getting ready to compete in sports such as football, volleyball, cross country and golf. Of course, football season gets much of the focus, however, local fans have gotten used to some stellar volleyball over the years, too.

Whether it's with the Havre Blue Ponies battling it out in Class A or some of the teams from along the Hi-Line such as North Star, Chinook, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Fort Benton, Box Elder and Big Sandy, battling for glory in their respective districts, a number of teams have high hopes going into the 2018 season. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the top storylines surrounding local high school volleyball.

What will the Ponies look like in 2018?

After making the Class A state tournament back in 2015 in the first year under head coach Tamecia Jarvis, the Blue Ponies have struggled to duplicate that success the past two seasons. Havre didn't make it out the divisional tournament in 2016 but still made some noise, winning a couple matches before exiting.

Last season, though, Havre struggled mightily within conference play. Against Central A opponents Lewistown, Belgrade and Livingston, the Ponies posted a record of 0-6 and after getting beat twice at the Eastern A Divisional in Lewistown, Havre failed to win a league match in 2017.

Havre did beat Sidney in the Eastern A Tip-off Tournament which opened last season and HHS will open in that tournament again this season, this time as the host, hoping to build some positive momentum behind returning players like Sam Oliver, Cassidy Acor and Peyton Brown, among others. The Ponies will host the season-opening Eastern A Tournament Aug. 24-25 and will start conference play soon after, so it won't take long to see what kind of strides this team will make in 2018.

Can North Star repeat in the 6C East?

For years, the District 6C East belonged to the Chinook Sugarbeeters, but last season, North Star ended that run, knocking off CJI in the championship match to capture the district championship.

Now, the question is can the Knights repeat? While the cupboard certainly isn't going to be bare after last season's run, North Star did suffer some key losses such as First-Team All-Conference standouts Peytan King and Lily Pedersen, as well as Second-Team All-Conference selection Jewel Wicks.

Fortunately, the Knights do return one of the top players in the district in Paige Peterson, an All-State performer back in 2017. North Star will need to develop some depth around her, but seeing as Peterson is the only All-State returner in the district, the Knights definitely look like one of the teams to beat.

Who is the biggest challenger in the 6C East?

While North Star is looking to defend its district crown in the 6C East, every other team is looking to knock the Knights off their pedestal, and based off last season, there are a few teams that have a legitimate chance.

Chinook is one of the obvious choices because, over the years, the Sugarbeeters have had a solid volleyball program, even winning a Class C state championship in the previous decade. Yet, the Beeters haven't made state in a few years and last season saw their streak of district titles come to an end.

But with the return of two All-Conference players in Kourtney Hanson and Megan Molyneaux, the Beeters, who finished third at the district tournament in 2018, look poised to challenge. Yet, they won't be the only team in contention as CJI is another team to keep an eye on.

The Hawks have three players back who earned All-District honors last season including first-teamer Khloe Kamerzell. Peyton Hawks and Kim Ghekiere also earned Second-Team All-Conference as juniors, and with all three returning, CJI is another formidable foe in a league that's tougher than it looks, especially with teams like Box Elder and Big Sandy making strides. Fort Benton is another local team to watch. They are actually part of the 7C, but the Longhorns made the Northern C Divisional tournament and are another team loaded with young talent.

What about Rocky Boy and Harlem?

In the Class B ranks two local teams will try to make some noise in the Northern B Division and that's Harlem and Rocky Boy. The Morning Stars are part of the always-difficult District 1B, while Harlem will once again be part of the District 2B.

Rocky Boy lost both of its matches at districts last season, which kept them from advancing to the Northern B Divisional. Harlem, on the other hand, knocked off Poplar and earned its way to divisionals before seeing its season come to a close. The Wildcats, who put together a strong run during the girls basketball season last winter, have some talent, as do the Stars, it's just a matter of putting it together at the right time.

Will a local team make it back to the All-Class state tournament?

If you didn't know, the Hi-Line is going through a bit of a drought in terms of sending teams to state volleyball. In fact, no local team - not Havre, Harlem, Rocky Boy, Fort Benton or any of the teams from the District 6C East - have made it to state volleyball since 2015, when Havre and Chinook each qualified.

Chinook and CJI have the two most experienced teams returning in the area, along with North Star, which has the lone All-State player. In Class C, it's hard to know, but if those clubs can develop some depth around their high-end players, anything is possible, even in the always challenging Northern C Divisional.

Havre knows a thing or two about challenging divisional tournaments and the Eastern A should be tough once again in 2018 with the likes of Belgrade, Lewistown and Billings Central. Winning consistently at the Class A level will be the first order of business for Havre, but with some nice pieces to build around and a coach with state-tournament experience, anything is possible.

 

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