HAVRE — Three straight state titles and five in the last six years for the Blue Ponies and they have no plans on slowing down. Dustin Kraske has been at the head of the program for 17 years now and has won a total of six state championships in that time. But if anyone were to ask him the secret to their success, he’d tell you it’s not much of a secret at all.
“It’s so simple. We play all summer like all good programs do, our kids come to practice each day trying to get better for the Ponies, we coach them hard and they’re receptive to that.,” said Kraske. “We get to the state tournament and you got to have a little luck on your side. We’ve had our fair share of that where certain matchups have worked well for us…We’ve been able to make some plays and score more points than the other team.”
It was not a fast track to success for Havre under the leadership of Kraske. It took them five years to win a conference championship, in which they turned into a four-peat, and it took seven years to claim their first state title.
“We went through a time where we were just trying to win games. We tried three times and failed to win divisional championships,” Kraske explained. “My vision for the program when we took it over was to have a competitive team to represent our high school.”
Before he even knew it, his vision was inspiring future Blue Ponies and giving them hope for what could be by the time they got to high school. Senior Avery Carlson remembers celebrating Havre championships long before she was the one hoisting up the hardware.
“I remember the 2014 state championship, I watched it with my dad,” said Carlson. “Seeing those girls go out and celebrate like that, I knew I wanted to do something similar and I knew we had the assets to do it. I had high hopes.”
Carlson and the Blue Ponies team lost in the semifinals of the state tournament during her freshman year, but her sophomore year was the start of something different her class. As she was able to raise the state trophy and add to the banners hanging in the gym, she felt a bit of a weight lifted off her shoulder.
“My first state championship, that was more of as relief feeling,” said Carlson. “I was very nervous for that one, there was a lot of emotions. This last one was more like a bliss feeling, knowing that my time here was spent well.”
As her high school career has now come to an end, she has plenty to show for it and knows how much she contributed to the legacy of Havre girls basketball.
“Looking back at my high school career, I am very proud of what our senior class as a whole was able to do here. I think we left something behind for everyone else which is obviously a major goal of ours. It’s definitely something to be proud of. I think we kept the legacy Blue Pony basketball going.”
Although Avery and four other seniors will be leaving, the program is still in good hands. Freshman Amaya Jarvis scored 18 points in the title game and got a taste of what it felt like to be at the top of Class A girls basketball. Once there is a taste of winning, a hunger for more begins to grow.
“I think that we still have a lot to work for and it’s not going to be given to us. But I think we have more opportunities to compete in the state championship again,” said Jarvis.