It's been a hot summer in Havre. And it's looking like things will continue to stay that way for a while.
But the heat is also on inside the Havre Middle School gymnasium where the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team has begun preparations for the upcoming 2012 season.
The Skylights are nearly a full week into fall camp and have been holding two-a-day practice sessions at HMS while the Armory Gymnasium is finishing being renovated.
And overall, the theme for Northern practices has been one of intensity and of bonding as the Skylights have a mix of veteran players and talented newcomers.
Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said recently that the addition of three players out of the junior college ranks have helped create a veteran team, much like the Skylights of last season. Northern graduated several key seniors, including setter Nahe Kaiinaana and Sierra Diehl, as well as Paige Richardson, all of whom helped the Skylights to their best season in nearly a decade.
Back for the Skylights this year are veteran starters Hillary Isleifson, an all-conference performer a year ago, Kelsey Williams, Victoria Polo and libero Holly Cartwright. Cartwright is a key cog for Northern as she's been starting for the Skylights since her true freshman season.
That group, along with a host of quality newcomers should give Northern a solid nucleus to build on.
And the building has already begun, with a full week of practice and an upcoming team retreat this weekend.
The Skylights will then hit the gym next week to begin preparing for their season-opening tournament, which is Aug. 17-18 in Great Falls. Northern plays four nonconference matches at the UGF-Carroll Tournament next weekend, and that will be a great opportunity for Huebsch to evaluate his team and see where the Skylights need to go next.
Huebsch also said recently that he's very excited about his nonconference schedule because it will prepare Northern for the rigerous Frontier Conference, a league in which the Skylights were picked sixth by the league's coaches. In the nonconference portion of Northern's schedule, the Skylights play a host of teams which will be, or were ranked in the final NAIA Top 25 of 2011.
After three weeks of nonconference play, the Skylights will open the league season at home against Carroll on Sept. 8.