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Dustin Kraske, winner of six state championships, steps down as Havre girls basketball coach

Dustin Kraske
Posted at 3:55 PM, Apr 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-25 19:40:28-04

BILLINGS — Dustin Kraske recognized the formula for success early in his tenure as head girls basketball coach at Havre High School.

"We wanted to have kids that were very interested in playing together and playing as hard as they could," Kraske said. "Our culture was, we can win in Havre, and then if we work as hard as we can and play together good things can happen for us."

Those habits were crafted to near perfection under Kraske's leadership, and the Blue Ponies won six Class A state championships during his 18 years as coach. But now it's time for Kraske to step away, as he announced his retirement from the program on Thursday.

Kraske is stepping down, he said, to spend more time with his family. He and his wife are the parents of a 14-month-old girl, and it's time for Kraske to shift his focus away from basketball.

"It certainly wasn't easy, but I wouldn't say it was a difficult decision," Kraske said. "We kind of threw our heart and soul into everything for 18 seasons. She was born last year kind of toward the end of our 2023 season, and that changes a guy a little bit.

"Now she's 14 months and she enjoys spending time with her dad. So I wanted to make sure there were opportunities for me to do that."

During his coaching stint, Kraske guided Havre to state championships in 2014, 2018 and 2019, and then to a three-peat from 2021-23. The Blue Ponies were winners of seven divisional tournament championships. His overall record was 306-117, a winning percentage of .723.

A litany of standout players led the way through it all, such as Kyndall Keller, Dani Wagner, Peyton and Sadie Filius, Hope Hedges, Brandy Lambourne, Lacey and Loy Waid, Morgan Mazurkiewicz, Marca Herron, Danielle Wallace, Avery Carlson, Yelena Miller, Amaya Jarvis, Ariana Gary and many more.

But at the center of it was a core team concept.

"Individual accolades were no one's concern," Kraske said. "Honest to goodness, we went through a stretch where the kids only cared about what the score was and that's it.

"It was also based on the fact that our parents let us coach them. It's 100% support. It's a real unique setup. I don't even remember a negative conversation with a parent in 18 years. We wanted to draw on, 'How do we get better and how do we play together?' And everyone supports everyone else's kid.

"That's special because you don't really get that. I think it was a critical component for our teams to be able to do well."

Kraske's Blue Ponies forged a spirited Eastern A division rivalry with Billings Central that produced memorable matchups, especially in the postseason. Havre beat the Rams in the state title game in 2021 and 2022. The 2021 game went to double overtime.

This past season Central defeated Havre in the state semis before beating Bigfork for the title. It was the Rams' first outright championship since 2012.

"It was really good, and really good for girls basketball," Kraske said of the rivalry. "I called Jett (Ailes, Central's coach) and I called Cindy (Farmer, Hardin's coach) because the three of us have kind of been together for maybe the longest competing against each other.

"What those two women have done at those schools is remarkable. I thanked them for making me a better coach and for helping us all be better teams."

Kraske is a 1994 graduate of Havre High. He described himself as a role player during his playing days, which culminated in the Blue Ponies, under hall of fame coach Bob Lanning, winning the Class A state championship over Billings Central in his senior year, a 61-60 thriller.

Kraske did what he could to contribute to his team's success, which he said helped shape his coaching philosophies. But now it's time for him to step back. He will continue his duties as principal at Havre High.

"For me it's always been about our kids," Kraske said. "And it was wonderfully rewarding."