George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University- Northern Skylights have one final chance to tweak things before Frontier Conference play begins next weekend. And after a holiday breather, the Skylights (10-3) will begin preparation for league play tonight when they face NCAA Division II University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. at 7. The Skylights are playing the Marauders in the first round of Mary’s Northland Financial Classic in Bismarck. It’s a tournament that Frontier members Montana Tech and Rocky Mountain College will also be a part of. Northern had some time off since it last played in Lewiston, Idaho almost two weeks ago. In the Lewis-Clark State tourney, the Skylights knocked off Canadian powerhouse Simon- Fraser and NCAA Division III George Fox University. Both were wins that the Skylights came in as underdogs, and despite Mary’s 4-6 overall record, the Skylights will likely be in that role again tonight. Mary is transitioning from NAIA to DII, but the Marauders have played several NAIA schools during their nonconference schedule. It was only five years ago that Mary captured the NAIA National Championship. Just last weekend, the Marauders beat RMC, and earlier this week, they suffered a six-point loss to Montana State Billings. MSU-B is the only common opponent that MSU-N and Mary have this season. The Skylights were beaten by MSU-B in Billings two weeks ago. Mary has several quality players in its starting lineup. Guards Liz Grader and Sam Leidell are two of Mary’s leading scorers, and Grader is a dangerous 3-point shooter. The Marauders will also try to go inside to power forward Katy Telshow, who is averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds per game. Tonight’s matchup between Mary and MSU-N is an exhibition game for the Skylights, but it will count on the Marauders’ overall record. After the Skylights and Marauders hook up tonight, MSU-N will leave Bismarck and head to Dickinson for their third meeting with Dickinson State University. The Skylights have beaten DSU twice in 2006. The first meeting came on Nov. 3 in Havre when MSU-N hammered the Blue Hawks 72-58. Just nine days later, the Skylights were in Dickinson and had to come from 18 points down to beat the Blue Hawks 73-70. DSU (3-9) has only won three games since that meeting in Dickinson, but the Blue Hawks still have a host of dangerous and talented players. DSU is, like MSU-N, potent in the paint. The Blue Hawks have 6-3 starting center Ladonna Downs and 6-0 forward Cetra Banks, both of whom have scored in double figures against MSUN. DSU head coach Guy Fridley will also bring 6-3 Tammi Vasilijivek off the bench, and she can score, rebound and defend as well. Meanwhile, the Skylights are nearing Frontier Conference play in good form. MSU-N has five players scoring in double figures. Senior DeLayne Johnston leads the way at 16 points and nine rebounds per game. Chelsie Searle, who missed most of last season with injury, has come back nicely as well. The senior guard is averaging 11 points per game and she is shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc. As expected, the Skylights are getting good production in the paint. Junior Ashley Trulock is coming off the bench to average 11 points per game, and senior Michele VanDyke is chipping in with 10 points and seven rebounds per outing. On the perimeter, Searle is getting help from senior Jena Heggem. The former Winifred star has stepped up her game this season by averaging 10 points per game, and she is shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line. Junior transfer Becky Sorenson has also adjusted to life in a Skylights’ uniform nicely. Sorenson is scoring nine points a game and she is averaging more than five assists. This weekend’s road trip is the final tuneup for an MSU-N team that is picked to finish fourth in conference play this year. The Skylights are trying to get back to the NAIA national tournament after advancing to the NAIA Sweet 16 a year ago. Tonight’s game in Bismarck tips off at 7. MSU-N will play DSU on Friday night at 7 p.m. in Dickinson.