Havre Daily News sports editor
In sports, like in life, things don't always work out like anyone hopes or expects. That was the 2005-06 Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team's season in a nutshell.
The Skylights' season didn't end how any of them wanted it to. Northern let a late seven-point lead against The Master's College slip away in the second round of the NAIA national tournament in Jackson, Tenn., Friday afternoon, ending the Skylights' magical and tumultuous season.
“It was a tough way to end the season because we were in a really good position to win the game,” MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat said. “But we didn't make plays down the stretch and they did. That is really what the game came down to.
“It is also tough because we went and watched them (Mustangs) beat Freed-Hardeman the next night,” Mouat added. “And I know all of our kids were sitting there thinking that that could have been us in that position.”
And just like the Skylights' season ended not according to the perfect script, their season didn't begin that way either.
The Skylights lost senior forward and former Havre High standout Jayla McPherson to a season-ending knee injury when the season was still in its infancy. And, of course, on Nov. 14, the Skylights' van crashed on an icy stretch of Interstate 90 in western Montana. The accident cost the Skylights starting guard Cheslie Searle and reserve guard Ashlie Griffin for the remainder of the year due to injuries sustained in the accident.
“I honestly felt at the time that it was going to be very difficult to just finish the year,” Mouat said. “At the time of the accident, I don't think anyone thought that we would possibly be in the position we were in at the end of the season.”
Despite all of the adversity, the Skylights did carry on, and what ensued over the course of the next three months was quite simply one of the best basketball seasons an MSU-N team has had in the last five years.
When the Skylights returned to the court, they stormed through the rest of their nonconference schedule, winning seven straight games, while playing with eight and sometimes seven players.
And even though they hit a speedbump in the first half of the Frontier Conference season, going 2-5, most of those losses came on the road, and with five of their remaining seven games at home, the Skylights appeared to be a team of destiny.
In the last month of the regular season, Northern soundly defeated two NAIA Top 10 teams in UM-Western and Lewis-Clark State. In their last home game of they year, with the pressure of qualifying for an at-large berth to the national tournament hanging in the balance, the Skylights went out and thumped the University of Great Falls. The win over UGF wrapped up a fourth-place regular-season finish in the Frontier Conference for MSU-N with an 8-6 record.
“I think that is something we can really be proud of,” Mouat said. “We were picked to finish in fourth in our league before any of the stuff that happened to us happened. And that is exactly where we wound up at the end of the regular season. To do that with all of the great teams in our league says a lot about what kind of year these kids have had on the basketball court and how well they played.”
On week after beating UGF, the Skylights appeared fatigued heading into the Frontier Conference Tournament in Butte, yet they still dispatched the league's most improved team in Westminster College in the opening round. In the semifinals, the weary and shorthanded Skylights came dangerously close to beating eventual champ UM-Western.
Two days later, Northern got the official word that it had indeed received an at-large berth into the national tournament. Exactly a week later, the Skylights stunned No. 13 Oklahoma Christian in the first round, 82-68, before falling to the Mustangs in the Sweet 16.
Over the course of the season, Northern excelled both as a team and individually. The Skylights set several team records including free throw percentage for a season, free throw percentage for a single game and free throws attempted in a game.
Individually, senior guard Jaci Heny also set several records on her way to earning second-team NAIA All-American honors. Heny broke the MSU-N single-game scoring record when she went off for 40 points against LC State on Feb. 17 in Havre. She also set single-season records for free throw attempts and free throws made as well as scoring average in a season, as she averaged 20.9 points per game.
Heny, fellow senior Camille Gardner, junior DeLayne Johnston and sophomore Michele VanDyke were all named to the Frontier's All-Conference team.
And although the Skylights' season ended with a disappointing loss, Mouat knew right away that this year could only be summed up as a rousing success.
“We have nothing to hang our heads about,” he said. “This has been an amazing year and this team is an amazing group of young people and they certainly left their mark on this program.
“They have been an amazing group to coach on and off the court,” he added. “This is a team and these are people that will always be special to me and to this program.”
2006 NAIA All-American Team
#Kelly Schmidt, Vanguard University (Calif.) 6-0 F Jr.; Mariam Sy, Oklahoma City University 6-4 C Sr.; Jackie Weaver Trevecca Nazarene University (Tenn.) 6-5 C Sr.; Jessica Richter, Vanguard University (Calif.) 5-10 G So.; *Ashlee Robertson, Freed-Hardeman University (Tenn.) 5-6 G Sr.; Crystal Coston, University of Mobile (Ala.) 6-0 F Sr.; Jere Adams, Houston Baptist University (Texas) 5-8 G Sr.; Shalee Fackrell, Westminster College (Utah) 6-0 C Sr.; Lauren Decker, Oklahoma Christian University 5-8 G Sr.; Lindsey West Azusa Pacific University (Calif.) 5-11 F Sr.
# - NAIA National Player of the Year
* - Repeat First Team Selection from 2005
Dannisha Winfrey, Brewton-Parker College (Ga.) 5-6 G Sr.; Katherine Sunwall University of Montana-Western 6-1 C Jr.; Ena Daniels, Union University (Tenn.) 5-8 G Jr.; Candice Jackson, Saint Xavier University (Ill.) 5-8 G Jr.; Lindsey Sparks, Lee University (Tenn.) 5-9 G Sr.; Kristine Jenson, Concordia University (Calif.) 6-2 F Jr.; Rachel Besse, Vanguard University (Calif.) 6-2 C Jr.; Tabetha Eaton, Oklahoma Baptist University 5-9 G Sr.; Jaci Heny, Montana State University-Northern 5-6 G Sr.; Latrice McMichael, Missouri Baptist University 6-0 G Sr.
Stacy Myers, Freed-Hardeman University (Tenn.) 6-1 G Jr.; Kinsley Mittel, The Master's College (Calif.) 5-6 G Jr.; Becky O'Neil, University of Montana-Western 6-1 C Jr.; Ashley Baker, Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho) 6-3 F Jr.; Emily Woody Carroll College (Mont.) 5-10 F Sr.; Tennille Cann, University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) 5-7 G Sr.; Kim Ingle, Georgetown College (Ky.) 5-9 G So.; Ashlie Gilland, Trevecca Nazarene University (Tenn.) 5-11 F Sr.; Kendra McKormick, John Brown University (Ark.) 6-2 F Sr.; Deana Duncan, Berry College (Ga.) 5-10 F Sr.
Angie Brown, Saint Xavier University (Ill.); Kenya Clements, Southern Wesleyan University (S.C); Nicole Davis, California Baptist University; Tamika Drinks-Holloway, Brewton-Parker College (Ga.); Megan Fate, Westmont College (Calif.); Tiffany Fisher-Rhodes, Union University (Tenn.); LeAnn Fossum, Columbia College (Mo.); Jolene Fuzesy, Carroll College (Mont.); Tiari Goold, Vanguard University (Calif.); Sherill Hadrick, Houston Baptist University (Texas); Jessica Hass, Indiana University-South Bend; Julie Hayes, Freed-Hardeman University (Tenn.); Rachel Heins, Oklahoma Baptist University; C-Kayla Humes, Cumberland University (Tenn.); Alexandra Kotta, Oklahoma City University; Velencia Kuykendall, Houston Baptist University (Texas); Rachel Martin, Oklahoma Christian University; Brittany McBride, Northwestern Oklahoma State University; Aundrea Morrison, Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho); Jennifer Nagy, University of the Cumberlands (Ky.); Jenny Noort, Campbellsville University (Ky.); Kinga Rybarczyk, University of Mobile (Ala.); Megan Schmitz, University of Montana-Western; Katie Sterling, University of Science and Arts (Okla.); Jessica Still, Lee University (Tenn.); Grace Tappe, The Master's College (Calif.); Dominique Thomas, Houston Baptist University (Texas); Vanessa Villarreal, Texas A&M International University; Renee Williams, Cumberland University (Tenn.).