Frontier’s second half begins this weekend as MSU-N hosts Carroll College and Rocky Mountain College
George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
It’s turnaround time in the Frontier Conference. And on the women’s side, that means that teams in one of the best leagues in all of NAIA basketball will beat up on each other for seven more games before the conference tournament in Butte. For the Montana State University- Northern Skylights (3-4, 14-7), this weekend is about getting another opportunity to improve on and atone for losses suffered last week and last month as the Skylights host No. 12 Carroll College tonight and Rocky Mountain College on Saturday night. The Skylights come into tonight’s game with the highly-touted Saints fresh off back-to-back losses at Montana Tech and No. 6 UM-Western last weekend. Northern lost to Tech on a last-second 3-pointer. MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat is just happy to be at home, and have 5-out-of-7 games at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. “Every game is tough in our league,” Mouat said. “And both games this weekend will be. But we’re just really excited to have those tough games at home as opposed to being on the road.” MSU-N already has a loss to the Saints (5-2, 21-2) this season, and it wasn’t pretty. Carroll drubbed the Skylights in Helena to open conference play last month. And while Mouat knows his team has improved despite their sub-.500 record in league play, he also believes that the Saints have improved as well. “Carroll has lost two games in our league,” he said. “But they are still one of the best teams in the country, not just in our conference. So that just goes to show you how good our league is, and I have to believe they have gotten better.” What makes the Saints so dangerous this season is their balance. Last year, Carroll reached the national tourney on heavy guard play, led by former Havre High sharpshooter Jolene Fuzesy. And while Fuzesy is having another banner season for Carroll, the Saints’ forwards have bumped the team up to a national title contender. “Jolene is a great player and she is one of the best 3-point shooters percentage- wise in all of college basketball, not just in the NAIA,” Mouat said. “But I think their balance is what makes them so good. They are just very good across the board. “So the focus for us is on the defensive end,” he added. “We have to do a good job all over the floor. Last time we guarded Jolene pretty well, but we got beat on the boards badly. For us down the stretch, we have to be better on the boards. Right now, when we get beat on the boards we lose. So that is where our focus is going to be against Carroll and for the rest of the season.” Fuzesy comes into tonight’s game averaging 16.4 points per game, secondbest in the Frontier. But Carroll also gets 14 points and seven boards a game form senior forward Amy Brooks, as well as nine points and six rebounds from fellow forward Sophi Forney. But MSU-N can counter Carroll’s balance with some balance of its own. The Skylights have six players averaging in or near double figures in points, led by senior DeLayne Johnston (14 ppg, 7 rpg).
Jena Heggem, Michele VanDyke, Chelsie Searle, Becky Sorenson and Ashley Trulock are also averaging between 10 and eight points per outing. And despite Northern’s rebounding and turnover troubles, Mouat says that balance and senior leadership will hopefully get his team headed in the right direction. “I really like our balance,” Mouat said. “We’ve had five different seniors lead us in scoring this year which is pretty rare. For us, it’s all about consistency and finding the person who is making shots for us during the course of the game. But I feel like we’re as balanced as anybody out there.” Mouat is also extremely pleased with the play of Heggem, who has continued to have big games during conference play. At Montana Tech, Heggem scored a team-high 23 points and connected on three treys. “Jena has had to wear many hats for us this season,” Mouat said. “She had to play the point with little experience there and she has had to guard some very quick players. And she has continued to do a tremendous job for us no matter what the situation. Really, all of our seniors have just played great for us this season.” And the seniors and the rest of the Skylights will have to play well this weekend. MSU-N is in a three-way tie for third place heading into this weekend’s games. Just like last year, the Skylights start the second half of the season under .500 in league play. And no matter how tough Carroll will be tonight, Mouat expects more of the same from RMC on Saturday. “Rocky is a very dangerous team,” Mouat said. “And they have improved a ton since we played them in Billings. They haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but they have played the best teams in our league really close, and they have our full attention and our respect.” Northern beat the Bears (1-6, 7-16) by double-digits in Billings last month, and RMC’s only win came against winless UGF the night before the Skylights played the Bears. However, even though RMC has just one win in conference play heading into this weekend’s games, newcomers Gretchen Wall and Jenna Sawyer have made sure the Bears aren’t an easy out for anybody. “We expect Rocky to come in here and play very well,” Mouat said. “Like I said, our league is just that tough and every game is a battle. “But right now, our focus is on getting better,” he added. “We were in this position last year and we turned on the jets and made a nice run at the end of the season. Now we just have to focus on one game at a time and worry about playing good basketball down the stretch. If we do that, I think we’re going to be right there at the end again.” Tonight’s game between the Skylights and Saints will tip off at 6 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. Saturday’s game between MSU-N and RMC is also set for a 6 p.m. start.