Havre Daily News Sports Editor
One tough doubleheader down, another to go. That is the plight of the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team right now, as it prepares to host Albertson College of Idaho tonight at 5 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.
Just as the Skylights (2-1) hosted the University of Lethbridge on back-to-back nights last weekend, they will do the same with Albertson, facing them again on Saturday at 5 p.m. It is a tough assignment for the Skylights, who are still trying to find their way after the loss of senior transfer Jayla McPherson to a season-ending knee injury almost two weeks ago.
But it is a task that first-year Northern head coach Chris Mouat thinks his team is up for - especially after the up and down weekend the team experienced against Lethbridge.
“We learned a lot about our team last weekend,” Mouat said. “We took one on the chin against Lethbridge on Saturday, and I think it was good for us.
“We found out that this team has some resiliency, because Sunday was a very good day for us. And I think both of those games prepared us well for facing a very good NAIA opponent in Albertson College,” he said.
Indeed, the Skylights rebounded from Saturday's loss to Lethbridge with a resounding win over the Pronghorns on Sunday afternoon. Northern turned a poor defensive effort on Saturday night into a stellar one on Sunday afternoon.
This weekend, Mouat would like to see his team get off to a better start in the first game of the double dip, especially against a team as highly regarded as the Coyotes.
“Albertson returns three great players from last year, and they have great size in the post,” Mouat said. “They also added some great transfers to a team that nearly went to the national tournament last year.
“They are well-coached and they do things right,” he added. “This team coming in here has our full respect.”
The Coyotes were just minutes away from making a trip to the NAIA national tournament last season, losing in the Cascade Conference championship game. They return three quality players from that team, including 5-11 forward Kim Strunk. Strunk and 5-6 guard Angie Gribble, were all-conference players last season. The Coyotes also have the benefit of getting back a healthy Magen Duferrena. She missed most of last season with a foot injury.
One of the big reasons why the Coyotes have not only Mouat but the rest of the Cascade Conference concerned this season is the quality transfers they have added to their program.
Albertson added transfers like 5-11 Jordi Grady and 5-10 Krystn Patterson. Boise State transfer Whitney Clark should also help the Coyotes tremendously.
“This team is a lot different than the Lethbridge team we faced last weekend,” Mouat said. “They have really good size and all of their players are very athletic.
“So defending the post and rebounding will be very important for us in the two games,” he added. “The thing that makes Albertson so good is that not only are they big, but they shoot the 3-point shot very well. So we are going to have to respect them everywhere they go with the ball.”
If the Skylights play defense the way they did on Sunday against Lethbridge, they should be in good position to match up well with the Coyotes. The task of slowing down the Coyote post players will fall to forwards Michele VanDyke, DeLayne Johnston and Ashley Trulock. All three have played outstanding basketball for the Skylights so far in 2005, especially Trulock, who is averaging double figures in scoring off of the bench.
Once the Skylights contain the Coyotes defensively, they will look to their own posts for scoring, as well as hope the shooting of guards Camille Gardner and Jaci Heny continues. Heny's efforts last weekend against Lethbridge earned her Frontier Conference player of the week honors.
“We want to make sure we get off to a good start offensively in each game,” Mouat said. “I think that will be very important because we want to control the tempo.
“We'll push the ball when we have opportunities. That is standard for us,” he added. “But another big key will be making sure we take care of the ball. Turnovers will be critical against a very good team like Albertson.”
Win or lose this weekend, the experience the Skylights will gain from two games against a quality NAIA opponent will be invaluable down the road.
“We want to improve on what we did last Sunday,” Mouat said. “But this is such a good test for us because Albertson is a lot like the good teams in the Frontier Conference.”