The last time John Ita was the head coach of the Havre High track and field program, things were a little bit different. But taking over the reigns again, now a decade later, Ita is still confident his Central A Blue Ponies boys and girls will be competitive.
Ita last coached the Ponies in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And with 90 plus total kids on the team, Ita even coached the HHS boys to a second-place finish at the Class A state meet in his final season. But as the years have passed, the numbers have decreased, and with Ita back at the helm, the track team enters the season with a total head count of less than 50.
But that shouldn’t keep the Ponies from being competitive in 2014, as they return several seasoned veterans on both the boys and girls squads.
“The days of having 58 boys out and 40 girls out are over,” coach Ita said. “But we have really good quality out this year, so I think we will still make a little noise. The last time I was the head coach the boys were second at state, and we had great speed and great numbers, now we don’t have those numbers. The strategy now is to have a quality person in every event, even if we have to train somebody who doesn’t think they can do an event.”
Some kids may find themselves competing in events they never thought they would or could, but the Ponies also have some returning athletes who will continue to stand out in their known events.
On the girls side of things, seniors Peyton Filius and Haley Ohm will continue to lead the Ponies in the long distance races. Senior Lacey Waid will also look to cap off a great pole vaulting career, while senior Martha Stocker will anchor the throwing events for the HHS girls. Stocker placed sixth at state in the shot put and Filius placed sixth at state in the 800 meters last season, they were the only two ponies to place a year ago. But Megan Erickson (middle distance) and Rachel David (middle distance) and Corissa White (sprints) also return to the girls team as they look to build off of last year’s No. 3 team finish at the divisional meet.
On the boys side, athletes like Thomas Gruber (pole vault) and Gunnar Aageson (pole vault) will return for the Ponies. Kade Rismon returns as the top thrower, while Nate Rismon (sprints) and John Faber (jumps) also return.
“Time will tell where our real strengths are at,” Ita said. “Cut Bank got canceled, so the first meet we will go to is Lewistown, so that will definitely be helpful to see all of the kids in action. We have some exciting older kids, but we also have younger kids coming on with some athleticism. It is just hard to predict how they will do until you get them out on the track and see them compete. But our goal this season is to get all 17 of the events filled for the boys and girls. We want somebody competitive in every event, and yeah, you may think you are a 400 runner, but we have three other 400 runners and what we need is a 300 hurdler. We are just going to try and fill every event.”
With a solid group of freshmen, sophomores, and first-time upper classmen, the Ponies are looking to get to know themselves a little bit better moving forward. And with the Cut Bank meet getting canceled, the first meet on the Ponies’ schedule takes them to Lewistown April 5, but HHS will also compete in Great Falls, Belgrade, Glasgow and Whitefish this season. They will also host the annual Lions Invite April 12, a triangular with Lewistown and Malta May 10 and the Central A divisional meet May 23 and 24.
As the season gets rolling, coach Ita should get a better idea of what he is working with. Freshman Kristin Nash has already garnered some attention with her athleticism, as has freshman Michael Loftus with his speed and great jumping ability. Senior Matt Curtis also adds to the boys team as a first-year competitor, but Ita is excited to see where he too will fit in as the Ponies prepare to stand up against the rest of the Central A. Belgrade brings in a ton of numbers once again and should be the team to beat. But Livingston is also very well rounded with moderate numbers. Lewistown, the Ponies and Browning will have to step up their game to compete with the numbers out there.
“We have a bunch of kids who have never been out for track before,” Ita said. “We are also working on getting them in shape and up to speed so we can see how they can contribute as well.”
Also making up the HHS track team this season will be freshmen Dakota Acor, Donatus Bautista, Emily Brurud, Samantha Huston, Nikolas Keller, Sarah Malone, James May, Cody Rennick, Naomi Terry, Marc Woronik and Meggie Zook, sophomores Zan Anderson, Austin Burnside, Luke Karnauskas, Thomas Keith, Cole Keller, Cameron Knapton, Brock Ross and Lucas Shaw, juniors Julie Kadrmas, Jaden Korb, Rocky Kuhr, Derek Matosich, Carlene Rennick, Tyres Rodarte, Noah Seigel, Dylan Stewart, and Brauk Wood, and seniors Ryan Antley, Alicia Borst, Kyle Duitsman, Zeena Fox, Tommaso Perrone and Kelly Teske.
The season has begun with some cold and snowy practices, but the Ponies will get their first taste of competition April 5 when they travel to Lewistown.