Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The competition isn't getting easier for the Havre High School tennis team. Just days after facing the top competition in Montana at the Helena Invitational, the Ponies will face, well, the top competition once again, at this weekend's Great Falls Invitational.
The tournament is a dual-match format, with the Ponies dualing four Class AA schools, including the top-ranked Class AA school in the state - perennial powerhouse Billings Senior.
"This will be a very challenging weekend for both of our teams," said head coach George Ferguson. "We have four very difficult duals. But it is a situation that hopefully the kids relish.
"We have a chance to play some of the best tennis teams and individual players in Class AA. Win or lose, this will be very good experience for our kids."
Havre will open play on Friday at 2:30 p.m. at the CMR tennis courts with the Great Falls High Bison. The Ponies swept the Bison in dual action on Tuesday in Great Falls with identical scores of 5-2.
On the boys' side, Great Falls' No. 1 singles player, Spencer Gray, beat Kyle Baltrusch on Tuesday, while the Bison's No. 4 player, Zach Alfred, also was victorious. Both are matches that could have different outcomes this time around. The remainder of the Pony boys had little trouble with the Bison.
The Pony girls should also come out victorious. Havre swept the doubles in dominant fashion. Its only two losses came in the singles, and both were very close. Havre's No. 1 singles player, Amy McLain, picked up a big win over talented freshman Samantha Selstad.
"Obviously, if we play like we did on Tuesday, we should beat them again," Ferguson said. "But Kyle and Amy have very tough matches. I think Kyle is capable of turning things around. Selstad is going to be gunning for Amy. We can't look past them."
Havre will wrap up play on Friday night at 6:30 at the Meadowlark Country Club courts against the Bozeman Hawks. The Bozeman boys have a formidable squad, coming in with a 4-4 dual record, with one of the defeats a close 4-3 loss to Billings Senior.
Bozeman has solid singles players in Steve Jackson and James Catlin. The Hawks also have a good doubles team in Ben Tengelson and Brian Bosche, who won the Helena Invitational No. 1 doubles division.
While the Bozeman boys team is good, the girls team may be better. The Hawks are the two-time defending state champs and are expected to slug it out with the Billings Senior girls for the Class AA team title.
Bozeman is led by the two-time defending state champion doubles team of Hannah McCarthy and Mackenzie Wallace.
McCarthy and Wallace's toughest foe in AA is a team they face every day in practice. Bozeman's No. 2 doubles team of Emily Sands and Maryanne Hanson finished second at state last year behind McCarthy and Wallace.
"The girls' duals against Bozeman and Senior will be very daunting," Ferguson said. "Those two teams will be fighting it out for the AA state championship this year, so it will be very good for us to play both of them."
The Ponies will get a slight reprieve on Saturday morning when they face the Butte Bulldogs at 10 a.m. at the CMR courts.
The Butte boys have good doubles teams in Brady Bentley and Bryan McNabb and Brandon Warner and Brock Williams.
In the singles, the Bulldogs are led by Calvin Lee and Nick Huang. The Bulldog girls are led by singles players Johanna Beatty and Joanna Meyer, along with the doubles team of Kelsey Manchester and Ashley Rongstad.
But the biggest dual match of the day, and possibly the tournament, will come at 2 p.m. against Billings Senior. The Broncs are the prohibitive favorite to win both the boys and girls AA state team titles.
"The boys team is really looking forward to the final dual of the tournament against Billings Senior," Ferguson said. "Like with CMR the past two seasons, we have the opportunity to go head-to-head with the deepest and most talented team in Class AA, which is definitely Senior."
Indeed, the Broncs are led by two-time defending Class AA singles champion Sean Harris, who hasn't lost a match in two years. He's headed to West Point on a full tennis scholarship. Senior also has a good player in freshman Brian Laseuer, while four other state qualifiers return.
"They possess the best overall player in the state and they are very deep top to bottom, especially in singles," Ferguson said. "But we are very good too, and this is an exciting opportunity for our team to find out how we stack up, while getting in seven matches against quality opponents."
The Bronc girls are also led by a Harris. Talented freshman Missy Harris, Sean's sister, has stepped into the vacant No. 1 spot and flourished. The Broncs return every other member of the team that qualified for the state tournament, including No. 2 singles player Lindsey Harkness, who finished third last year.
"Senior has the top female tennis player in the state of Montana in Harris," Ferguson said. "They also have a solid player in Harkness at number two, and two very good doubles teams.
"Even though this weekend will be a big challenge for our girls team, especially because we are missing a couple of key players, the experience we will get from it should be very valuable to us as we near the end of the regular season."