One week and two games is all that stands between the Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team and a long-awaited return home.
The Skylights are off to a stellar 8-0 start to the season, including a rousing 78-49 win at Dickinson State on Monday night. But only two of those eight wins have came on their home floor and MSU-N hasn’t played at the Armory Gymnasium since Oct. 20.
But before the Skylights can play at home again, they’ll try to pick up two more road wins this weekend when they play in the Westminster Classic in Salt Lake City. Tonight, the Skylights play Simpson University and they take on Holy Names University on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve got two more road challenges ahead of us,” Northern head coach Chris Mouat said. “This has been a real grind this last month. We’ve made some really long road trips and played some quality opponents. I’m really proud of our kids for the way they’ve handled the road schedule. It’s really tough on them, but they’ve really handled it well.”
Indeed. Aside from exhibition losses to the University of Montana and Minot State, the Skylights have been perfect, at home and perhaps more impressively on the road. And that perfection really came to the forefront last weekend as Northern knocked off NCAA DII stalwart Minnesota-Moorhead in Billings, then blew out the Blue Hawks two days later in Dickinson, N.D.
And while guards Laramie Schwenke and Nikki Tresch are lighting up the scoreboard, it’s been defense and rebounding which has helped Northern to be the only Frontier Conference team without a loss as December begins.
“We’ve been really good on the defensive end all year,” Mouat said. “That’s something the kids have really bought into. It’s been kind our trademark for a long time now and it’s continuing this season. I couldn’t be more proud of the way our kids are getting after it on the defensive end. And we’ll need that kind of effort again this weekend.”
Simpson University is a small, Christian college in Redding, Calif., but the Red Hawks are now competing in NAIA DII’s Cal Pac Conference and they’ve played a strong schedule this season. The Red Hawks are 4-6 on the season and boast a roster with a pair of 6-0 forwards and an outstanding point guard in senior Sara Rooker.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s opponent, Holy Names also plays in the Cal Pac, and despite getting off to a 4-8 start this season, will be a tough team for the Skylights to get a win over. Holy Names went to the NAIA DII tournament a year ago and is a favorite in the Cal Pac again this season. The Hawks have also played a rigorous schedule including losses to NAIA powers Fresno Pacific, Biola and Cal Baptist.
“Holy Names is a legitimately good team,” Mouat said. “They’ve played really good teams this season and they have solid athletes at every position.
“I think both games will be a tremendous challenge for us,” he added. “We have to be ready to go in both games. And hopefully we can play well and get a couple of wins and have some momentum for our home schedule coming up.”
Today’s game between the Skylights and Simpson University will tip off at 4 in Salt Lake City. Saturday’s game with Holy Names is set for 2 p.m. The Skylights will play at home against Dickinson State on Thursday night.