George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
If you’re looking for a team to dominate the Frontier Conference men’s basketball season like in years past, you might be in a for a bit of a surprise. Graduation, transfers and injuries have seemingly changed the league over night, and 2007 may just be the first time in recent memory that the word parity truly comes into play when talking about men’s basketball in the Frontier. Westminster College won the regular season title last season, and Carroll captured the league championship at the Frontier Conference tournament in Butte. Both teams went to the NAIA national tournament and Carroll advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. For those reasons, the two teams were picked to finish first and third in the league this season. But don’t expect either of them to run away with the league championship this year. One reason that Carroll and Westminster will have trouble trumping the rest of the competition this year is the emergence of Rocky Mountain College. The Bears finished tied for fourth last year and return every player from that roster. RMC was picked to finish second in the league this season and the Bears are off to a 10-6 start as they enter conference play. “Rocky is going to be a very tough team all season long,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “They are deep and talented. I mean, one of their players that started last year isn’t even starting this season. They are just a very good team.” Rocky head coach Bill Driekosen likely has the best seven-player combination in the league this season led by All-American candidate Devin Uskoski. The 6-6 sophomore was the freshman of the year in the league last season, and he comes into conference play averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. Uskoski could likely score more often, but his supporting cast of guards Chris Townley, Cooper Warren and Curtis Dunwoody, along with forwards Ryan Gomendi, Alvis Dowiels and Chris Nickolei are doing their part to make sure RMC is extremely well balanced. Meanwhile, Westminster and Carroll are heading down different paths as they enter league play. The Griffins (8-7) have struggled against very good competition this season. Westminster is still awaiting the return of All-American Nick Booth, who has been out for a good portion of the season. But life is not all bad in Salt Lake. Westminster acquired several quality transfers and has conference player of the year Danny Reeder back this season. Power forward Nate Sanchez has also given Westminster some much-needed scoring punch in Booth’s absence. Carroll (10-5) is still finding its way through its share of rebuilding efforts. Veteran head coach Gary Turcott had to replace his entire starting five from last season’s team that went 30-4. But the cupboard isn’t exactly bare in Helena as the Saints have an excellent roster ready to take on the Frontier Conference. Carroll is getting 15 points per game from 6-2 senior Dallas Leslie. And 6-5 junior Erik Henkel is also back from last year’s team. Power forward Chris Kaschmitter and 6-6 Big Sandy native Gage Brumwell have also had a big impact on the Saints’ season. Carroll is also getting redshirt-freshmen Kellen Hasquet back after he has been out for most of the nonconference season due to illness.
“Westminster and Carroll are still going to be very good this season,” Huse said. “They both have a lot of talent, and even though they have lost some games during the preseason, they both have a lot of experience in our league and that goes a long way.” Lewis-Clark State, MSU-N and UMWestern were picked to finish in the middle of the pack this season, but don’t tell any of them that. The Warriors (11-4), under the direction of former MSU-N head coach Tim Walker, have a ton of talent and have played a rigorous nonconference schedule. LC State is paced by 6-5 junior Mike Gordy, who comes into league play third in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Keith Scarbrough and Chris Pitts are two more post players that make LC State extremely tough. Northern has played one of the toughest nonconference schedules in Frontier history, and the Lights have come out of it pretty well. MSU-N is 10-5 heading into its conference opener, and the Lights look like one of the deepest teams in the league. Junior transfer Delvaughn Tinned is fourth in the league in scoring at 16 points per game, and overall, the Lights have four players averaging double figures. Meanwhile, Western and the University of Great Falls might be the biggest unknowns as conference play begins. The Bulldogs are 6-7 overall, but they have the league’s fifth-leading scorer in Ty Palmer (15.5 ppg). And Western head coach Mark Durham has even more talent with the likes of 6-4 junior Wes Morales and 6-0 senior Travis Hartman returning. Durham also has a talented transfer in 6-6 Aaron Sims. And the Argos, who were picked to finish last this season, just as they did a year ago, are off to a rousing 11-5 start this season, despite the loss of several key players. UGF did lose the NAIA’s top assist man in Keithan Gregg, who returned to Eastern Washington to play tennis. But the Argos return the incomparable Tyrone Witherspoon. The 6-4 swingman led the conference in scoring last year and he is up to his old tricks again, averaging more than 20 points per game. Power forward Rashaun Puryear has also stepped up his game this season. Puryear is scoring 15 points and pulling down 6 rebounds per game, making UGF a very dangerous team night in and night out. And then there is Montana Tech. The Orediggers were once the pride of the Frontier, and former MSU-N assistant coach Nate Larson takes over for Mike Bauer to try and restore that legacy in Butte. Tech is 5-8 this year and the Diggers were picked to finish seventh in the league by the coaches. However, Larson does have a senior-laden team led by 5- 11 point guard Luke Harman and 6-7 center DC Egge. Casey Briggs and Maurice Williams should also help the Orediggers’ plight this season. “Our league is going to be tough again,” Huse said. It always is. I think that everybody is a little more even this year. But I also think this league has a lot of talent and it should be a very interesting season.