It was just about a month ago that the Havre Lady Blue Pony basketball team was capping an undefeated season with a Class A State title at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. It was a historic season even for such a successful program. Yes, Havre had won state titles in girls basketball before, but never in this fashion, in which they went 24-0, claimed the Central “A” crown, and an Eastern “A” Divisional title as well, en route to the aforementioned state championship.
Lady Blue Pony Head Coach Dustin Kraske, who led Havre to a Class A title just 5 years prior, on that same floor in Great Falls, has continued to build upon the foundation of success of program rich in history, and continues to take it to heights yet unreached. Kraske has had many special teams during his tenure as head coach, but this years squad stood out over previous and possibly more talented teams, because of their cohesion. This group of ponies had no egos, they were the quintessential team, in that they would sacrifice self for the whole no questions asked. And if you ask Kraske why this was, he’ll start with the same answer every time – his senior class.
The five ladies that made up this season’s seniors, entered the program as freshmen the year after a Peyton Filius and Brandy Lambourne led the Ponies to the 2014 state title. So from day one of their freshmen season the expectations were high, and the goal that these girls set, was to bring another state championship to Havre. So, Marca Herron, Ryen Olsen, Kaylee Nystrom, Kyley Verplogen, and Danielle Wallace would embark on a odyssey that had many twists and turns, highs and lows, victories and defeats before finally in the last game of their high school careers making good on that pact from four years earlier, winning it all.
The lessons learned over the course of their first three years in the program helped lead them to their ultimate goal. Its said experience is the greatest teacher, and the experiences that these five ladies went through, had them ready both physically and mentally for the challenge ahead.
First and foremost the girls could play. Let’s not kid ourselves, one can have all the motivation and desire in the world, but if the ability isn’t there some dreams can be unrealistic – no, these girls had talent, and each brought a different dynamic to the table. Marca Herron, with the high basketball IQ and leadership skills, handled the ball. Kaylee Nystrom, was a fearless ball of energy, whose motor never stopped, and could defend, sticking to her man like white on rice. Ryen Olsen, was the consummate teammate and sixth man, coming into the game off the bench without any drop off, and was one of the best shooters on the team. Danielle Wallace and Kyley Verplogen gave Havre their inside presence, early on both were called upon for sound defense and rebounding, but by senior year both would develop offensive skills in the post that gave Havre that missing championship dimension. This group formed the core every coach wishes for, one that is selfless, experienced, and talented.
Coming into their senior season, Herron, Nystrom, and Wallace were entrenched in the starting lineup, where they were joined by a pair of talented sophomore’s Kyndall Keller, and Kadia Miller(Olsen and Verplogen were the first subs off the bench). Keller, already a seasoned vet by her second year, was the teams top scorer, while the athletic Miller was tasked with stopping the opposing teams best player. Now in many cases this is where that nasty little three letter word can begin to undermine teams… ego. Not in this case, as the seniors knew for the team to be at its best, the individual would take a back seat to the group. The seniors had seen times in their careers where the “ME” got in the way of the “WE”, and that never led to positive results. No, these five leaders knew their roles and what it was going to take to be successful. If that meant deferring to a sophomore on the court, so be it. If it meant coming off the bench that was fine too.
However, what this group of senior’s did that was really special was, they made every other player feel like they had ownership of the team too. It wasn’t a case of, “well it’s my team this year”, an all too common mindset that fractures and divides teams, rather the mantra was, “its our team”, from the starters to the practice players, everyone had an equal share. That combined with talent and a burning desire to win, is and was the recipe for the Ponies success. And now that some time has passed since the end of the magical season, we look back with some perspective and see just how special this group was.
Oh, don’t get me wrong the Lady Ponies going forward will continue to perform at a high level on the court, as they have in years past. Next years squad returns a lot of talent, and if nothing else Coach Kraske has set a standard of excellence, but this particular team needs to be appreciated, for seasons like the 2017-2018 Havre Lady Blue Ponies had don’t come around on a regular basis, and I don’t mean by just the team accomplishments, but by the character and make up of the players themselves. With that being said these five young women are fantastic role models on and off the court, that any community would be proud of.
(Marca Herron will continue her basketball playing career at the University of Providence in Great Falls. Kaylee Nystrom plans on running cross country for MSU-Northern this Fall. Ryen Olsen who injured her knee midway through the season, will attend Montana State University in Bozeman. While Danielle Wallace and Kyley Verplogen have both signed to play basketball at Dickinson St. University in North Dakota.)