By George Ferguson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Just like when the grass turns green in the springtime, the sight of freshly painted green tennis courts is a welcome sight to veteran Havre High head tennis coach Sam Dierman.
His Blue Pony boys and girls teams will be in action for the first time this season when they travel to Cut Bank Saturday morning for the Cut Bank Invitational.
As in years past, the Havre High boys team will begin the season as the Class A defending state champions, and they now have their sights set on an unprecedented fourth consecutive state championship.
"It is hard to say it without sounding too confident, but the boys team should be loaded once again," Dierman said. "We have a ton of letterman returning this season and we only lost two guys off of last year's state team, so I think we are going to be in pretty good shape."
The Ponies will begin the season with solid players in both singles and doubles. Sophomore Kyle Baltrusch is the defending state champion in singles and he is backed by senior Cody McLain, who placed second at the state tournament as a sophomore as well as finishing in the top six last season. Senior Ian Spencer also figures to contend for a varsity singles or doubles spot.
In doubles, the Ponies will return a lot of firepower as well. Senior Jeremy Heninger and junior Daine Solomon will team up to form the top doubles team for Havre. Solomon placed second at state in doubles last season with senior partner Mike Frey, while Heninger and senior partner Seth Marstiuen finished third. Havre's No. 2 doubles team will feature the sophomore duo of Mark Mariani and Gary Wagner. As freshmen, they qualified for the 2002 state tournament and came within a match of placing in the top four.
Dierman said a number of other talented players like John Christian, Austin Small, Scott Miller, Logan Grant, Chase Castloo and Lucas Hamilton are also vying for varsity spots.
"We have a lot of talent and even though we have won state the past three years, I really believe that this is one of the deepest boys teams I have ever had," Dierman said. "It will be interesting to see how things play out with all of the kids."
The Havre High boys team is not only seeking a fourth straight state title but also a fifth consecutive divisional championship. But Dierman cautions against believing that things will be automatic for his team.
"Lewistown is good enough to push us in the division," Dierman said. "And Whitefish and Glendive should have strong teams at state, so we'll have to see how things unfold. But I like our chances as of right now."
While the boys team has enjoyed unparalleled success, the Havre High girls team is still searching for an identity. Dierman said things are looking better than they have in a long time in girls tennis.
"I think that this is one of the most talented girls teams that we have had here in a long time," Dierman said. "We have a lot of returning letter winners and our freshman group is very strong."
"I really believe that this is our best chance to win a divisional title in girls tennis," Dierman added.
The girls team will be anchored by a pair of very strong singles players. Senior Crystal Pyrak and sophomore Amy McLain will battle for the top two girls singles spots, and both figure to play a significant role in the divisional and state singles competition. Megan Rice also figures to see significant varsity singles time. Dierman said the final spot will be a three-way battle among seniors Sara Suek, Jenna Baltrusch and Malorie Creswell.
The Blue Pony doubles teams will feature seniors Ryan Hamilton and Jen Gorder at the No. 1 spot and senior Casey Peterson and junior Erica Johnson probably at No. 2. Dierman also thinks the talented duo of freshmen Steph Flatau and Keely Solomon may contend for a varsity doubles spot.
"The good thing about the girls team is that our numbers are way up," Dierman said. "And our freshmen are looking real solid so I think we have a real good shot not only this season but especially down the road."
Both the girls and boys teams will be in action in Cut Bank this weekend. The tournament will be a dual format and the Ponies will face Cut Bank, Lewistown and Conrad. All of the action will get under way Saturday morning at the Cut Bank High School Sports Complex.