Havre Daily News sports editor
If anyone deserves to spend the holiday season in a place like Hawaii, it is the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team.
After enduring a difficult month of November, when the Skylights had to virtually rebuild their team after the team van crashed in western Montana on Nov. 14, the Skylights will close out 2005 when they play a pair of games at the Fun in the Sun Classic in Honolulu this weekend.
Northern will put a five-game winning streak on the line tonight when the Skylights square off against North Georgia College and State University at 6 p.m. MST. The Skylights will also face Olivet Nazarene College on Saturday afternoon.
Despite having to carry on without three of the top 10 players on their roster, two of whom were lost for the season because of injuries suffered in the crash, the Skylights have managed to play at an extremely high level. During their current winning streak, the Skylights have beaten two Frontier Conference teams and Whitworth College, an NCAA Division III team.
The main reason the Skylights are shining right now is team productivity. Northern is excelling in team defense and free-throw shooting and also has a stellar assist-to-turnover ratio.
Four of Northern's five starters are averaging in double figures, led by senior Jaci Heny and junior DeLayne Johnston. Heny averages nearly 20 points per game and Johnston is chipping in with 15 points per outing. Johnston and fellow junior Michele VanDyke are combining for nearly 19 rebounds per game. Senior guard Camille Gardner has been the team's catalyst, averaging nearly 15 points and six assists.
Tonight, the Skylights' (9-2) winning streak will be put to the test when their vacation in Hawaii ends and they get back to basketball. North Georgia is a member of NCAA Division II and the Saints are 7-1 on the young season.
North Georgia plays an extremely fast-paced offensive game, averaging more than 90 points per contest. While the Saints love to get up and down the floor and aren't shy about launching perimeter shots, they should give the Skylights the most trouble in the paint. They boast three players over 6-0, led by the 6-2 duo of Jenica Johnson and Jeanine Dorminey. Six-foot senior Lara Seamon is also a strong scoring threat in the post.
Things won't get any easier for MSU-N on New Year's Eve when the Skylights get back to NAIA competition against Olivet Nazarene College. The Tigers hail from Chicago, and like North Georgia, they also like to play an up-tempo brand of basketball. Despite a 6-6 record, the Tigers are considered a favorite heading into their conference season and they have been to the NAIA national tournament recently.
The Tigers are a guard-oriented team led by seniors Colleen Callen and Sara Hempill. But they will also be a team to be reckoned with in the post with 6-2 junior Missy Kalas and 6-0 freshman Poppy Miller leading the way.
Northern will square off tonight against North Georgia at 6 and will face Olivet Nazarene on Saturday at 2 p.m. All times are MST.