By Ryan Divish
Mike Erickson isn't nervous about his first official game as the coach of the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team. At least not now, an hour before tip off that could be whole different story.
Erickson and his squad make their 2002-2003 debut when they host the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns tonight and Saturday at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
"I might be a little nervous then," Erickson admits.
Erickson begins his first year as the official head coach after being named interim head coach last season following the suspension of then head coach Kevin Emerick. While he still remains coy about first game nerves, the same can't be said for his team.
"They're ready to play," Erickson said. "We're tired of beating up on each other. Last night at practice they were starting to get excited and get goose bumps about the game."
The first game of the season won't be a walk in the park. Lethbridge came into Havre last season and defeated Northern in Havre.
The Pronghorns return essentially the same team from last season including starters Amanda Edlund, Angela Thompson and point guard Anita deMenezes.
"They have some big girls and the like to pound it inside," Erickson said.
The Skylights will offset the Pronghorns size by taking advantage of their quickness. Erickson has worked all preseason on run and jump full court pressure.
"We're really going to pressure the ball," Erickson said. "Hopefully, we can make them cough up the ball and it will lead to easy scores."
That type of pressure relies heavily on the familiarity of the players on the floor and despite the number of new faces on the Skylights roster, Erickson feels his team is progressing well.
"Defensively, we're ahead of the game in terms of our run and jump," Erickson said. "They're jelling very well together."
Lethbridge also has an additional advantage thanks to an assistant coach scouting the Skylights alumni game. Former Skylight Ronna Wright is an assistant for the Pronghorns and played in this year's game. Wright scored 11 points in the game and got to see the Skylights pressure first hand.
Erickson, obviously can't worry too much about Wright informed the Pronghorns about Northern. Instead, he will worry about what his team can control. The Skylights are still feeling their way on the offensive side of the ball, but have shown some explosiveness from three-point range. Anna Bateman, Davina Shoemake can all shoot the three. Miranda Valley brings some slashing ability and a ton of toughness to the floor while frontcourt mate Brettney Vermandel causes matchup problems with her combination of size and quickness.
One thing that does bother Erickson is the attitude of the Lethbridge team.
"When teams come down from Canada they have nothing to lose and they play like it," Erickson said. "They beat us last year and the know they can be very competitive."
Northern and Lethbridge will tip off at 7 p.m. tonight at the MSU-Northern gymnasium and 6 p.m. on Saturday.
The Montana State University-Northern men's basketball will also be in action on Saturday night as they host the Northwest All-Stars in an exhibition game at 8 p.m.
The All-Stars are a traveling team made up of former NCAA and NAIA players. Former Carroll College star Tyson Hunter is on the squad along with former New Mexico State star Denmark Reid.
The All-Stars will play at Carroll College tonight before traveling to Havre to play Northern.
"I don't know much about them," said men's head coach Shawn Huse. "I know they're pretty athletic and it will be a challenge for our guards."
Because the game is an exhibition, Huse will try and get everybody plenty of playing time while using different combinations of players.
"We were still trying to find out our rotations," Huse said.
But just because the game is an exhibition, don't think for a minute that winning isn't important.
"Any time my guys step on the court, I want them to win," Huse said. "I don't care if it's a game of HORSE or Horseshoes."
The game will tip off at approximately 8 p.m. following the Skylights game.