Havre Daily News Sports Editor
One way or another, Jayla McPherson was going to have a lot of new teammates. Only next season, McPherson will be wearing a different uniform.
The former Havre High all-state basketball and volleyball standout is coming home to play basketball, transferring from the University of Great Falls to play for the Montana State University-Northern Skylights.
"I'm really excited to be coming home," McPherson said over the phone. "I've always thought about what it would be like to come back home and play for the Skylights."
She talked about the possibility with her younger sister, Jeanna, who plays for the Skylight volleyball team and then contacted Northern head coach Mike Erickson about making the move.
"I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to have Jayla as part of our program next year," Erickson said. "She is the type of player that will bring stability, a lot of hard work and enthusiasm to our team."
Unfortunately for Erickson, he will only get McPherson for one season. She will transfer in as a senior. But she's expected to contribute immediately to a Skylight team that is seeing a large amount of player turnover.
All-conference center Megan Valgardson is graduating, and all-conference guard Jessi Reome, starting forward Michele VanDyke and backup point guard Kristie Pullin have all decided to leave the program for assorted reasons.
Northern also lost redshirt Laura Keaster, who is transferring to UGF, while reserve Heather Riener and redshirt Sheena Darlington were not asked back.
But even the recent player turnover didn't change McPherson's mind.
"I was pretty much looking at playing with new players this season no matter what," she said. The Argos lost all-conference guards Kim Freeman and Nichole Neill and reserve Francine KillEagle.
In her three-year stint with UGF, McPherson started every game and was the Argos' main, and sometimes only, low-post presence. At 6-0, she was forced to move from her natural position of power forward to center, where she went up against taller players almost every night.
"I'm really excited not to be the biggest player on the team," she joked. "Coach Erickson said I will still play a lot of center, but there will be more size up front playing with me."
Still, McPherson flourished at center for the Argos, particularly this past season when she averaged 10.9 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game as a third, or sometimes fourth, option behind Freeman, Neill and Dana Ball. She shot a team-high 59 percent from the field, which ranked her third in the conference.
"Jayla is a team player that has earned a lot of respect in the league the past three seasons because of her consistent play on both ends of the court," Erickson said.
McPherson believes that Erickson's up-tempo style of basketball will give her an advantage against bigger posts.
"I really like it that they run an up-tempo offense," she said. "I think it suits me to get out and run the floor and not play in such a structured offense. I also like the way Northern plays defense."
McPherson is also a good student in the classroom, having earned academic all-conference the past two seasons.
But all the talk of offenses, defense and positions are secondary to the chance to be a little closer to her parents, Marie and Randy, and her sisters, Jeanna and Jana.
"My parents are very excited about me coming home," she said. "I can't wait to get back home and start training with Jeanna to get ready for next season."