George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
In college basketball, time catches up with everyone. Star players graduate, new players take their place, the years seem to fly by. But in the case of the Montana State University- Northern women's basketball team, it's almost if those factors don't apply, because the Skylights have been one of the most consistent programs in all of the NAIA, and under head coach Chris Mouat, that hasn't changed. Mouat, who enters his fourth season at MSUN, will lead the Skylights onto the floor for the first time this season when they make their 2008-09 season debut Friday afternoon against Northern New Mexico in Havre. And while there are some new faces on the floor for MSU-N, the Skylights will no doubt, be consistently good once again. "I think we'll be a team very similiar to last year's but certainly with a different personality to a point," Mouat said. "I'm really excited about this group. And as a program, we want to have consistency in what we do. These kids have worked hard this fall, and I'm very excited by what I've seen. All of the girls are hard workers, they are very coachable, and I really like the makeup of our roster." And it's a roster that will have to replace three veteran Skylights from a team that went 16-13 last season, and finished fourth in the always- tough Frontier Conference. Gone from that team is first-team all-conference point guard Becky Sorenson, as well as guard Dana Ball and forward Ashley Trulock, all three starters from a year ago. However, the Skylights do return a pair of veterans, led by 6-3 senior Stacie Barker, who led the NAIA in blocked shots a year ago, as well as fourth in rebounds. Barker's numbers were astounding, as she averaged 10 rebounds, nine points and five blocks per game on her way to first-team all-conference honors as well as the league's defensive MVP. Joining Barker is returning starter Kaylee Shaw, a senior sharpshooter who averaged eight points, three assists and three rebounds per game. Sophomores Samm Schermele and Taylor Keller are also back, both guards who played heavy minutes last year, and both of whom will step into even bigger roles this season. Keller is taking over the ever-so-important point guard duties. Jenni Lee, a 5-11 post player and Jordan Kambich, a 5-8 three guard are also back to add more experience to Northern's rotation. Both players were key to last year's team, and both expect to have increased roles on the floor in 2008-09. "We have young guards, we have guards who have played a lot, but other than Kaylee Shaw, who is just an amazing leader for us on and off the floor, we are young. We are talented. Things are going to be a lot different for Taylor and Samm this season, and they are both tremendous players, and we're going to count on them both offensively and defensively a lot this season. "Inside, I think we can have a nice presence," Mouat added. "Stacie Barker obviously had a huge season last year, and she's worked really hard to get even better this year, especially offensively. She's really worked on her touch and her shooting. She's a tremendous player and another leader for us. She just goes out every night and gives us a great effort. I think Jenni Lee and Jordan Kambich are also going to be key to our success this season. They both had big roles last season, and we're going to need that to continue this year. Several newcomers will also play a critical role in Northern's success this fall and winter. The Skylights brought in 6-2 center Zivile Gaizutyte from Lithuania to shore up the inside even more, while junior guard Awilda Hernandez and true freshman Laramie Schwenke, a four-time Class B All-State selection from Malta will add depth to Northern's young back court. Freshman forward Danielle Trower (6-0) will also see time for the Skylights this year after redshirting a year ago. "I like our newcomers," Mouat said. "They've blended nicely with our veteran kids, and I do feel like because of them we have a lot more depth this season. "Zivile is a very talented player who can step out and shoot as well as rebound, Awilda is a threat to score every time she shoots it, Laramie is as unselfish a guard as there is and she's adjusted to the college game very quickly, and Danielle Trower is showing really good things in practice," he added. "So I'm really pleased with the chemistry and the makeup of this roster right now. I like the mix we have." Of course that roster will experience its share of growing pains, especially early. In this weekend's Coaches vs Cancer Classic, the Skylights will play the NAIA defending national champions in Vanguard University of California. Northern's nonconference schedule also includes Minot State and Black Hills State, two teams that went to the NAIA's Elite 8 a year ago, as well as games against the famed University of Montana Lady Griz in Missoula and Utah State in Logan, Utah. "There are no easy nights on our nonconference schedule," Mouat said. "It is very, very tough and it's going to show us a lot about ourselves very early on. We're going to have two huge tests at home right away. But that schedule will make us better and it will certainly prepare us for our conference, which is going to be among the best in NAIA women's basketball again this season. "This schedule is going to be a big challenge for our team," he added. "But again, I'm really excited about this group. We have young guards, veteran post players, great senior leaders, I think we're a team that plays very hard every night and we have a chance to be really good on both ends of the floor. We just need to come out of the gates ready to play." The Skylights begin their season Friday at 4 against Northern New Mexico in the annual Coaches vs Cancer Classic. On Saturday night, MSU-N plays Vanguard at 8.