By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
A new era in Havre High boys basketball is set to begin on Saturday night. The 2004-05 HHS boys team will play its first game under new head coach John Barnhorst when it travels to Class B rival Chinook at 5 p.m.
Barnhorst takes over from Mark West, who stepped down last spring after guiding the Ponies to a third-place finish at the 2004 Class A state tournament in Belgrade.
This season marks not only the beginning of a new head coaching era, but also the era of life after graduated senior Cory Brothers. Brothers was a four-year standout for the Ponies and is a freshman on the Montana State-University Northern men's basketball team. Last season he averaged 18 points per game for the Ponies and he was twice named Class A player of the year.
Havre also will have to replace graduated guard Trent Normandy, a three-year starter under West.
But as Havre High prepares to kick off a new season, there is much optimism surrounding Barnhorst and the Ponies. Havre came within striking distance of capturing the Class A state title last season, losing only to eventual state champion Libby in the semifinals. The Ponies return a wealth of talent and should be one of the most athletic teams in all of Class A.
"We are really excited about the potential of this team," Barnhorst said. "We have a lot of experienced players and we are a very deep team.
"I think with all of the great athletes and all of our experience, we should be a very good basketball team this season," he added.
Leading the way is senior point guard Marc Mariani. Mariani averaged seven points and six assists as a junior and he also led the team with 48 steals. Ty Hedalen, a 6-5 senior, is Havre's leading returning scorer and rebounder and he will be joined on the inside by solid post players like Jared Weigel, Gary Wagner and Tyson Parman, all of whom saw extensive playing time last season. The Ponies' front line also gets a big boost this season with the addition of 6-8 junior Mike Barton.
"We are definitely a much bigger team then we have been in the past," Barnhorst said. "That is certainly going to be one of our strengths this season."
Havre's backcourt will also be very dangerous in 2004-05. Joining Mariani are returning letter winners Jeremy Giardina and Patch Wirtzberger. All three are excellent shooters and ball handlers, and the trio will be very good defensively because of their speed and athleticism.
"We are going to be a team that really gets after people on defense," Barnhorst said. "We have so many kids who are athletic and fast, and that will allow us to play a lot of up-tempo basketball and put a lot of pressure on our opponents.
"With all of the speed and skill that we have, we should be able to play a very exciting brand of basketball this season," he added.
Last season the Ponies averaged just over 62 points per game, but at times their Achilles' heel was on the defensive end of the floor, where they struggled to effectively defend and rebound the basketball. With all of the talent returning to the HHS roster this season, Barnhorst expects his team to play at a much higher level on both ends of the floor.
Class A has realigned the divisions this season, going to four divisions instead of three. The Ponies are the defending Central A champions but this season the league will feature two fewer teams. Dillon and Anaconda have moved to the Southwest A, leaving Havre, Belgrade, Livingston, Browning, Butte Central and Lewistown in the Central A. The Ponies' nonconference schedule will also have a little different look as they will no longer play Harlem or Glasgow.
In Saturday's season opener, Chinook will also have a little different look. Warren Lybeck has taken over the program for Scott Friede. The Beeters struggled last season and they return a very inexperienced team this season.
"Because they have a new head coach, we really don't know what to expect," Barnhorst said.
Havre and Chinook will tip off at 5 p.m. at the Chinook High School gymnasium. The game can be heard on 610 A.M. KOJM.