Havre Daily News sports editor
Despite being shorthanded, despite being tired and despite all of the off-court issues the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team had to face, the Skylights returned to action triumphantly Saturday night in Wolf Point.
Playing without four of their top 10 players, the Skylights still managed to knock off Rocky Mountain College, 66-59, in non-conference action. It was a game that MSU-N first-year head coach Chris Mouat called a real gut check for his team, and a win he was extremely proud of his team for getting.
Tonight, the Skylights (6-3) make their long-awaited return to the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse when they face the University of Great Falls at 7 p.m. in front of what is expected to be a near-capacity crowd. Tonight's game is a makeup of the two teams' regularly scheduled nonconference affair back on Nov. 19. That game was the first of three games the Skylights cancelled as a result of their Nov. 14 van crash in western Montana.
Tonight's game is also the first time the Skylights have stepped onto the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse floor since a Nov. 5 win over Albertson College.
The game is being billed as “Pack the House Night” and, according to Mouat, his team is chomping at the bit to play in front of its home fans.
“We are really looking forward to playing a game on our home floor, in front of our fans,” Mouat said. “It is the floor we practice on, we sweat on, and we just can't wait to get back out there and play at home.”
Not only are the Skylights excited about playing on their home floor, but they are pumped about the prospect of returning to play in front of their fans.
“Northern athletics traditionally has had the best fans in the Frontier Conference, in my opinion,” Mouat said. “But especially this program. We have great fans and we're looking forward to playing in front of them again. We just can't wait.”
Of course, playing at home is only half of the equation. The Skylights still have to deal with UGF, as well as their own shorthanded bench. Northern came dangerously close to fouling out several players last weekend in Wolf Point, which would have spelled certain disaster.
Northern will be without Jayla McPherson (knee), Chelsie Searle (van accident), and Ashlie Griffin (van accident) for the rest of the season. Sophomore forward Ashley Trulock also sat out against RMC and her status for tonight's game was still unknown this morning, according to Mouat.
“We're not sure when we'll have Ashley back,” Mouat said. “Like everyone else, our main priority is her health, so we're not rushing anything.
“But this team understands what we're up against from here on out as far as our depth is concerned,” he added. “This isn't going to be a normal season in a lot of respects. But these kids dealt with it very well against Rocky and they have a tremendous amount of resiliency, so we're just taking things one game at a time, one practice at a time.”
To help with the depth, Mouat pulled the redshirt status of guard Mandi Carroll. He also added Jeanna McPherson, Heather Reiner and Kylee Star to help with practices.
Although tonight's game with UGF won't count in the Frontier Conference standings, it will tell both teams a lot about where they are headed in 2005-06.
“The University of Great Falls is playing very well right now,” Mouat said. “They have played some very tough teams and they have won some big games.
“They are full of offensive weapons,” he added. “We are certainly going to have our hands full with them.”
The Argos are paced by an outstanding trio of guards in Melanie Green, Cassidy Brunner and former MSU-N player Laura Keaster. The Argos also have good size on the front line with 5-11 junior Dana Ball and 6-1 junior Jessica Smith.
“We got outrebounded terribly bad against Rocky,” Mouat said. “That will be a big key for us against Great Falls. If we don't rebound the ball better, we're going to be in for a long night.”
Offensively, the Skylights did all they could against the Bears in Wolf Point. Senior Jaci Heny led the way with a game-high 25 points, and forwards DeLayne Johnston and Michele VanDyke added 14 and 11 points, respectively. Point guard Camille Gardner chipped in with 11 points.
“I thought we played really well against Rocky, especially at the start of the game,” Mouat said. “We were tired at the end of the game and we were beat. But it is going to be like that all season. These kids will continue to battle through that and we're are very excited about moving on and playing at home.”
Tonight's game between MSU-N and UGF is slated to tip off at 7 at the MSU-Northern