A new basketball season brings a fresh start, new faces and a renewed vigor. All of those things are good for the Montana State University-Northern women’s team as the Skylights begin again.
But new faces is the primary factor on this year’s Skylight team, as graduation hit a Northern team which went 13-18 overall a year ago, and won just four games in the Frontier Conference. From that team, Northern lost four-year standouts Samm Schermele and Taylor Keller, a pair of back court mates who spent years excelling in the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. The Skylights also lost starting forward Courtney Blume, who decided to focus solely on academics this season, and they will be without forward Val Gee for a significant amount of time as she is out at the start of the season with an injury.
So going forward, the 2011-12 Skylight roster will feature plenty of new faces.
“As a team, we’re very, very young and
very inexperienced,” Northern head coach Chris Mouat, who is in his seventh season in Havre said. “We do have some good players back who have been in program, most at least for one year, but by in large, we’re a very new team, and we’re going to need our newcomers to find their niche on this team very quickly. Everyone has to find their roles on this team quick and we’re going to need to come together very fast.”
Northern returns a pair of senior leaders in Laramie Schwenke (5-8, 10 ppg) and Jordan Bruursema(6-0, 8 ppg), the only two starters back from last year’s squad. Schwenke was an all-conference performer a year ago. A former starter is also back in the mix this season in sophomore Laci Keller (6-1). Keller missed all of last season with a back injury after a solid true freshman campaign. Also back is junior guard Kylee Denham (5-8, 3 ppg) and freshman forward Michaela Howe-Cobb (6-1). Howe-Cobb was poised to contribute last season, but an injury put the brakes on that. She’s been just recently cleared to play.
“Having Laramie, Jordan, Laci and Kylee back will definitely be a big plus for us, and we’re going to lean on them right away,” Mouat said. “Laramie had a great season last year for us and Jordan has really worked hard and has improved tremendously throughout her career here. So we’re going to rely on those kids for leadership and experience on the floor.
“At the same time, we need immediate help from the new players,” Mouat said. “Our three junior college transfers are going to have step in right away and fill big roles for us. We expect good things out of all of them.”
Junior shooting guard Nikki Tresch (5-5) is an outstanding outside shooter and a good ball handler and will give the Skylights instant help in the back court. Forward Kelly Millager (6-1) will give Northern added size in the paint, and Miles City transfer Micah Kirkpatrick () can play several positions. Northern will also utilize true freshman Rachelle Bennett (5-8). She’s a guard from Joilet who Mouat says is an outstanding athlete and who has come into the program college-ready. Redshirt-freshmen Taylor Cummings (5-5) and Leah Olson (5-10) will also be expected to fill roles this season for a young Skylight team, which faces a brutal nonconference schedule.
“From a scoring standpoint, we lost about 36 points per game between Samm and Taylor last year,” Mouat said. “Right away, it’s going to have to be by committee, and we do have the kids in place to step in and do a good job for us. It’s about getting game experience and finding where everyone fits in and we need to do that very quickly, and against a tough schedule.
“We have a couple of home games early, but November is going to be a vicious month for us,” he continued. “We play a lot of very good teams on the road. But that’s what we’ve always done. The last couple of years, we’ve played one of the hardest nonconference schedules in the country and I believe it’s always prepared us well for conference play. I think our schedule this year is as tough as any we’ve faced and it will make us a better team.”
October has Northern starting at home with King’s University and finishing the month at home with a good University of Lethbridge team. In between, the Skylights play a trio of games against top-level CIS competition in Calgary. November sees MSU-N play an exhibition game at the University of Montana Lady Griz, as well as games against an NAIA DII national tournament team in Valley City State, and NCAA Division II powers Minot State and Minnesota State-Moorehead. The Skylights also travel to rival Dickinson State at the end of the month before finally getting home in December to host the MSU-Northern Duck Inn Classic, which includes games against Minot and Hope International.
As for what fans can expect from the new-look Skylights, Mouat says the team will have a new wrinkle or two, but the objectives remain the same.
“Right away, and all season long, we have to be a very good defensive team and solid on the boards,” Mouat said. “We’ve always been about those two things and that hasn’t changed. Offensively, we’re going to be a little different than what people are used to seeing from us. We’ll be a different style to a certain extent and all of our players will have a hand in what we do. Our defense and our effort will have to be a constant for us. That will have to carry us through some mistakes and some growing pains early on in the season.
“We’re just a very new team,” he continued. “And we will have a different look this season. “We’re young and we’re inexperienced. But the kids have come in with a great attitude and a great work ethic. I couldn’t be happier with how things have gone in practice and in how they are preparing for the season. It’s been really good. As for expectations, we just want to get off to a good start. Our objective is to win every game, but more importantly, we want to have kids fall into their roles, to find the positions on this team that make sense for us, especially early on. We want to set the tone with our intensity and how we bring it every night. We want to make sure we play harder than our opponent and win or lose, we want to get better as quickly as possible. And I think we have the kids in place to do those things.”