There’s never been a shortage of good women’s basketball teams in the Frontier Conference. After all, many consider the league to rival the Golden State Athletic Conference as the best in NAIA Division I.
And that balance of power isn’t likely to change in the near future. Coming into the first week of the 2011 Frontier season, the league has three ranked teams in LC State, Westminster and Carroll College, while programs at Montana Tech, MSU-Northern and Rocky have also put together strong nonconference runs this season. And with so much depth and talent, the race to the Frontier title will be as good as ever this season.
Here’s a brief look at all of the Frontier teams in their predicted order of finish
Lewis-Clark State Warriors
2009-10: 11-3, 29-6
When it comes to league titles, the Lewis-Clark State Warriors have had to take a back seat to Westminster the last two seasons. But that hasn’t stopped LC State from going to the national tournament, or reloading as good players leave. And in 2011, the Warriors might just have one of their best teams to date. LC State enters league play ranked No. 4 in the NAIA and has just one loss on its resume. The front line at LC State is as good as ever with three all-american candidates in Jasmine Stohr, Alyssa Fierro and Kirsi Voshell, all of which stand over 6-0. Stohr is a potential NAIA Player of the Year candidate and comes into the season averaging almost 20 points per game. Add to that mix stellar guards like Kenna Reiter and Tasha Bishop and a solid bench, and the Warriors are going to be hard to stop this season.
2009-10: 13-1, 27-7
The Griffins and head coach J.D. Gustin have had a great run, making three straight national tournament appearances. But last season was to be a rebuilding year after graduating five players and two all-american guards. Instead, the Griffins ripped off a 13-1 Frontier record and rolled to the league title. Now back and better than ever, Westminster is set to battle it out with LC State for the conference crown and another postseason run. Guard play is again the key for the high-scoring and fast-paced Griffins, and they have good ones in Nicole Yazzie, Dani Evans and Allie Eastman. And with the addition of 6-0 forward Michelle Pace, the Griffins look to be loaded and hard to stop yet again.
Carroll College Saints
2009-10: 7-7, 17-14
It was an unusual season at Carroll a year ago. Picked by some to win the league title, the Saints struggled out of the gate and wound up at 7-7 in league play, and having to come to Northern for a playoff game. And an injury to star guard Elly Bruursema didn’t help matters either. But in 2011, Carroll appears to have the ship righted, and the Saints enter league play with just three losses and a No. 24 ranking. Bruursema is gone, but Carroll’s guards are still very good. Alysha Green and Alex Dunn lead the way, but true freshman and former Chester/J-I standout Jessica VanDyke is also making an impact on the Saints, as is sophomore Tori Cahill. And Carroll has a shot at the league title because of its depth. The Saints are big in the paint, led by senior Sara Meyer, and its talent and depth which could carry the Saints far this winter.
Montana Tech Orediggers
2009-10: 8-6, 19-10
The Orediggers were knocking on the door of an NAIA tournament berth a year ago. And if things keep going the way they are now, Tech might knock down that door in 2011. The Diggers’ are off to an 11-4 start and enter league play with plenty of momentum. A big reason is the emergence of sophomore Brooke Pokorny, who’s had a tremendous nonconference season. Pokorny is the perfect compliment to one of the Frontier’s best players, 5-9 guard Taesha Higbee. Add to that a powerful inside-out player in 6-0 Meghan Eisenmann and a deep bench, and the sky could be the limit for the Orediggers this season.
Rocky Mountain Battlin’ Bears
2009-10: 6-8, 8-20
Last season was to be a big one for the Battlin’ Bears. But they couldn’t overcome a two-win start to the year and wound up finishing fifth in the conference. Rocky is off to a similar start record-wise in 2010-11, but the Bears could be a factor in the Frontier title race as they are playing well. Rocky’s strength is its front court, led by 6-3 center Adrienne Green, as well as forwards Breanna Todd and Amie Jensen. And if the Bears can get consistent guard play this season, they will likely have something to say about who wins the Frontier crown.
2009-10: 7-7, 16-15
The Skylights made a great run in Frontier Conference play a year ago and wound up tying Carroll for fourth place, as well as hosting a playoff game. And they’ll need to make a similar one to keep pace again this year. Northern plays five of its first seven conference games away from Havre, and will need to win on the road in order to take advantage of a favorable February schedule. But it won’t be easy, especially with the uncertainty of two-time all-conference performer Taylor Keller looming. Keller injured her knee a month ago and hasn’t played in three weeks. If Keller can’t go, newcomers Monica Hollowell, Nicole Wilk and Kylee Denham will have to step up even more and help star guards Samm Schermele and Laramie Schwenke and Jordan Bruursema carry the scoring duties for veteran head coach Chris Mouat.
2009-10: 4-10, 5-24
The Bulldogs struggled to just four league wins a year ago, and not much is expected of them over the next two months. But Western has a long tradition of being a Frontier Conference stalwart, so the Bulldogs can’t be overlooked by any team in the league. And with a star center in Chloe Mosey, as well as Carroll transfer Hayley Pettit (6-3), Western will challenge teams in the post. And as the Bulldogs have proven in the past, they always have the ability to be a factor in what happens in the league.
Great Falls Argos
2009-10: 0-12, 5-24
Great Falls suffered its worst season since returning to the Frontier a year ago. The Argos went winless in Frontier play, won just five games overall and dealt with suspensions and injuries all season long. But the atmosphere has changed in a short time at UGF, and with great players like Marissa Skogen and Kezia Ford, both former Great Falls High standouts, UGF is poised to get out of the Frontier cellar this season.