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Blue Pony tennis excited to be back on the court


Last updated 3/25/2021 at 8:13am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High's Josh Warp hits a forehand at the 2019 Havre Invitational Tennis Tournament. After missing all of 2020 due to COVID-19, the Blue Pony tennis teams are back, and they start with Saturday's Cut bank Invitational.

Havre Daily News Staff

Coaching tennis isn't something Havre High head man George Ferguson does for a couple months a year. For the last 19 years, it's been a way of life. So imagine how he felt when the 2020 season was called off due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At that time, though, it wasn't his feelings he was concerned with. No, Ferguson felt for his tennis teams, and for spring sports athletes all over Montana.

"It was something I still haven't gotten completely over," Ferguson said about there being no tennis season a year ago. "Tennis, and these kids, they're such a huge part of my life, and for that to be taken away was heartbreaking. But more than that, I just felt so bad for our kids, especially those seniors. To just completely lose something they loved and enjoyed doing, it was tough to see. It was really tough, but as we now know, this pandemic has been hard on everybody in so many different ways."

Now though, things are changing, and one of those changes is that spring sports are finally back. The Havre High tennis team hasn't been on court, fully together, since May of 2019, but that's all over now, and Ferguson couldn't be more excited to be back.

"I've missed it so much," Ferguson said. "We've had some open tennis over the last year, and you stay in contact as much as you can with the kids, but now that we're all back together, and we have all these new kids out for the first time, it's just so exciting. I've never enjoyed the first two weeks of a season more than I'm enjoying this one. It just feels so good to go back.

"And it shows with our kids," he continued. "We always have kids out who are very driven and dedicated, but in the way we're practicing, you can just see how determined these kids are to make the most out of this season. They're making up for lost time, and they're having a blast, and it's really fun to see."

Making up for lost time is perhaps the biggest priority for the Pony tennis teams. Ferguson admitted, there's no way to get around the fact that all of his returning players lost three months worth of tennis, and that is a major setback going forward. But, he also said he's made some adjustments to help bring his players back up to speed as quickly as possible.

"The fact that we didn't play last year, for everybody who is returning, it's a big hurdle to overcome. The seniors and juniors especially, they lost a year of competition and growth so from an experience standpoint they kind of are still where they were at the end of 2019 and that's tough. And then you also basically have two years worth of beginners now, so I'm really adjusting my approach this year. It's just something you have to do because of what we've missed, and the kids are doing a great job of adapting. They're working hard and we're throwing a lot at them right now."

Adjusting to COVID-19 is just par for the course, and that will continue to be the case this spring. But, Havre's boys team, which has won 11 straight divisional championships does have plenty of experienced players to help the team get through those adjustments.

Senior Josh Warp is back after an All-Conference sophomore year, while senior Mick Chagnon, and juniors Trenton Maloughney, Josh Currie and Theron Peterson were all varsity players as freshmen. Fellow juniors Jared Rosgaard, Collin Miller, Caleb Spangler and Kendall Pleninger will also be contributors for the Ponies, as will sophomore Conner McKay.

Havre's strong boys tradition will also look to continue with a host of new standouts to the squad, including Isaac Pedraza, Wyatt Simpson, Gavin Hall, Carter Spangler, Reid Kato and Mason Kinsella.

"We've got a really good mix of experience and leadership, and some really athletic young guys that are going to be the future backbone of this boys program," Ferguson said. "Obviously, Josh and Mick will provide that leadership we need this season, and that junior class, that's a great core group of guys, but overall, this team is also really wide open and those young guys are going to end up contributing. Right now, we're just trying to get better and then see where everybody fits best. We're going to experiment with our lineup a lot more than we normally do, but at the same time, no matter how the lineup shakes out, this team is going to be another very strong Blue Pony boys squad, just as we always are."

While the Havre boys do have some experience, the same can't be said for the Pony girls. Havre's roster isn't just young, it's extremely inexperienced, with only senior Talia Ralph and juniors Grace Crantz, McKenzie Mangold and Destiny Hernandez having any tennis experience whatsoever.

"In 2019 and 2020 we had two really big senior classes of girls," Ferguson said, "so we're having to kind of start over. But that's OK. We've got an awesome group of girls who are working hard and learning really fast. And that's part of what you love about coaching this sport, you love to teach the game, and we're doing that with this young girls team and they're picking it up quick and really embracing it."

Havre has nine brand new girls out for tennis this season, so many of those newcomers will play varsity from the get-go. That group includes Kate Hemmer, Rayna Johnson and Courtney Burchard, who were out for tennis last spring before it got shut down. Kaylee Toregerson, Chloe Bricker, Mylee Schennum, Kylie Greenwood, Katarina Kaftan and Tosh Longknife will fill out the team.

And while the Pony tennis teams do have a lot of newcomers, as well as players who missed a full season, Havre's traditional schedule will help the Ponies learn, grow and get ready for the postseason push. That schedule includes trips to Cut Bank and Conrad, then the two-day Havre Invitational. The Class A Duals, The Glendive Invitational and the Mayfair Invitational are also big meets on the Ponies; scheduled as they gear up for the Northeast A Divisional May 20-21 in Lewistown and the Class A State Tournament the following weekend in Billings.

Right now though, Ferguson isn't looking too far ahead. Instead, he's just working hard to ensure he helps his players return to form and improve from there, while also growing his program with all of the newcomers out this season.

"I always break down the season into three parts," Ferguson said. "And even though we're behind, this first part is no different than any other season. We're just working hard every day to get better, to knock the rust off and get ready to compete on the weekends. That's all we're focused on right now is working hard every day to be a little bit better than the day before.

"But even though I'm not looking too far ahead, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really excited to see how all of this turns out. I'm just so excited for these kids and so excited to coach this group in particular. This is an awesome bunch of kids and they're going to have a great season. We know it will be different and there will be challenges along the way, but I also know it's going to be a lot of fun.We're going to work hard, we're going to compete and we're going to have a lot of fun doing it. Again, I'm just so glad Blue Pony tennis is back."

Havre gets the regular season started at Saturday's Cut Bank Invitational.


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