Havre Daily News
The thoughts of the Montana State University-Northern Skylights basketball team are focused on two players today after a crash Monday sent 10 team members and coaches to a hospital.
The team was returning home after a tournament in Portland, Ore., this weekend when the van hit a section of snow and ice on Interstate 90 near Lookout Pass and overturned.
Six were treated and released. Two of the four players who were still hospitalized Monday were to be released from as early as today.
Two players suffered more serious injuries.
Junior Chelsie Searle, one of three players who was ejected in the crash, was transferred Monday to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She was listed in satisfactory condition today and a hospital spokeswoman said she was no longer in the intensive care unit.
Junior Ashlie Griffin remained in the intensive care unit of St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center in Missoula. A spokeswoman this morning said she is in fair condition.
Senior Jaci Heny, interviewed by telephone from her hospital room in Missoula, said she, Searle and Griffin were ejected from the van when it crashed. She said coach Chris Mouat, who was driving, later told her he had encountered a lot of slush on the road.
“It was really scary,” Heny said. After the crash, Heny, Griffin and Searle huddled together for warmth until help arrived about a half hour to 45 minutes later, she said. Some of the players who were not injured found blankets for them.
Heny said her back and neck are still sore, but she did not suffer any major injuries. The doctors are monitoring a piece of cartilage that was dislodged in her chest, but will likely not have to remove it, she said.
“We're just hoping everybody heals,” Heny said.
Griffin had surgery Monday to fuse two vertebrae, Heny said. She said she had not heard the outcome of the surgery.
Ashley Trulock said she was asleep when the van crashed. She woke upwedged between two rows of seats in the van. Her teammates helped prop her up a bit. Trulock said she remembers Mouat and several players checking on the four most seriously injured girls and asking them to stay calm and not to move. She also recalls snow falling into the van, which was on its side.
Trulock said she has a compression fracture in a vertebra and was told it would be a few weeks before she could resume normal movement.
As for basketball: “It's just a who knows subject,” she said. “It kind of gets brought up here and there, and it seems it's not really a big issue right now. It will eventually, probably, be an issue, but right now we're so worried about each other and getting healthy, especially for Grif and Chelsie.”
Northern athletic director Dave Gantt has suspended all night travel for teams since the crash.
The Montana Highway Patrol said the crash occurred about 1 a.m. Much of western Montana was under a winter storm warning Monday as an Alberta Clipper moved across the state, bringing rain, snow and strong winds.
‘‘The driver was not going at an excessive rate of speed. He was just, unfortunately, going too fast for the conditions,'' Highway Patrolman Steve Gaston said.
Everyone in the van received medical attention at the hospital in Superior, with four then transferred to Missoula.
Gaston said only three people in the van were wearing seat belts.
Gantt, who is in his first year as athletic director at Northern, said he has been reviewing travel policy for several months.
Travel this season was scheduled by coaches before Gantt became Northern's full-time athletic director this fall, Gantt said. The Skylights' schedule was set before Gantt or Mouat, a first-year coach, had any input, Gantt said.
Gantt said he plans to exercise more control. Some proposed new travel policies include hiring drivers, chartering buses and scheduling an extra night's stay to avoid night travel. For the time being, Gantt said, he'll require teams to stay an extra night when traveling rather than drive at night. He said he's talking with the administration about possible policies and costs.
“Philosophically, I do not like the idea of our coaches having to drive,” Gantt said. “Having been a coach for 20 years, once you're finished coaching you're as tired mentally as your players are physically.”
The wrestling team is the next team with scheduled travel. The wrestlers will be heading to Wyoming and then Colorado this week, Gantt said. He said he'll be meeting with the coaches to make sure the schedule does not include night driving.
The crash has forced the cancellation of Saturday's non-conference home game between the Skylights and rival University of Great Falls. Gantt said the decision to not play the game was never a question.
“Basketball is not a high priority right now,” he said. “Our primary focus has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of our student-athletes.
“We talked it over with the athletic director at Great Falls, and both parties agreed that the game should not be played at this time,” he added.
Gantt also noted that there was no talk of when or if the game might be rescheduled.
“That will be up to coach Mouat and coach Hatler to decide at a later date,” Gantt said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.