One thing is for certain this time of year — women’s basketball in the Frontier Conference is very, very good.
For years, the league has been one of the premier conferences in all of NAIA basketball, and the 2013 season will be no different.
Some of the same story lines will become headlines this winter, including the Westminster Griffins, who are poised to keep their strong of Frontier titles alive. But there are also new stories to be told too, including the rise of the Great Falls Argos, who have finished last or next-to-last more often than not, and the addition of Dickinson State University.
There’s also the demise of Lewis-Clark State, which is off to a 3-12 start this season, while the middle of the pack, with Northern, Montana Tech, UM-Western and Carroll battling for not just the Frontier title, but a shot at a national tournament berth.
Individually, the league is loaded with talent, especially in the paint. Star centers like Western’s Hayley Pettit, Tech’s Kesley DeWit and UGF’s Kindra Jones will make life tough on the rest of the league this season. And scoring guards like Northern’s Nikki Tresch, Carroll’s Megan Patterson, Western’s Sammi Bignell and superstar Nicole Yazzie at Westminster are just a few of the many talented players in the Frontier.
It’s going to be quite the race the next few months, and many questions will be answered in the coming weeks. But there’s no doubt, for yet another year, the Frontier Conference will live up to its billing as one of the toughest league’s in all of NAIA women’s basketball.
Note: A full preview of Frontier Conference men’s basketball can be seen in Friday’s Havre Daily News.
Here’s a Look at the Frontier Conference, team-by-team, in their predicted order of finish.
2012 Finish: 1st
2012-13: 10-2, 1-0
Head Coach: Shelley Jerrard
Key Players: Allie Eastman (G, 5-11), Nicole Yazzie (G, 5-7), Cydney Tibbitts (F, 6-1).
Outlook: The Griffins have been to five straight NAIA national tournaments, and have won three straight Frontier regular season championships. Ranked in the Top 10 of the NAIA for much of this season already, it appears it will be tough to slow them down in Frontier play. Led by Nicole Yazzie, a four-year starter and one of the best guards in the country, as well as three more returning starters, Westminster isn’t just thinking about winning the Frontier this winter, the Griffins have their sights set on a run at a national championship.
2012 Finish: 2nd
2012-13: 3-12, 0-2
Head Coach: Brian Orr
Key Players: Brittaney Niebergall (G, 5-3), Annie Kane (G, 5-5), Tannis Fuller (F, 5-10).
Outlook: The Warriors have dominated the Frontier for more than a decade. And they’ve been going to the national tournament on a regular basis for even longer than that. But losing four starters and the best front line in the NAIA to graduation has finally made LCSC vulnerable. The Warriors have lost more games already this season than in the last two combined, and it appears their struggles will carry over to the Frontier schedule. However, LCSC, led by sophomore guard Brittany Niebergall, is a young team, with only one senior, so don’t expect the down times in Lewiston to last long.
2012 Finish: T5th
2012-13: 6-4, 1-0
Head Coach: Rachelle Sayers
Key Players: Megan Patterson (G, 5-11), Torrie Cahill (G, 5-11), Joey O’Neil (C, 6-3).
Outlook: For the last few years, women’s basketball at Carroll has struggled. Injuries and tough road losses have prevented the Saints from living up to expectations. But this winter could see Carroll finally get on track. With a loaded front line, and perhaps the deepest bench in the league, Carroll could be one of the few teams talented enough to threaten Westminster for the league title. And Senior Megan Patterson is good enough to threaten Westminster’s Nicole Yazzie for the Player of the Year.
2012 Finish: T5th
2012-13: 7-5, 0-1
Head Coach: Lindsay Wooley
Key Players: Hayley Pettit (C, 6-2), Sammi Bignell (G, 5-10), Roxy Thurman (G, 5-8).
Outlook: After being bounced by MSU-Northern in the Frontier playoffs a year ago, the Bulldogs return as perhaps the most dangerous team in the league. That’s because Western has the best 1-2 punch in the Frontier in center Haley Pettit and swingman Sammi Bignell. Together, the duo averaged over 30 points and 20 rebounds per game a season ago, and they are back to wreak havoc on the rest of the league. And with Pettit being such a dominant force in the paint, and Western’s ability to shoot from the outside, the Bulldogs are without a doubt the toughest team to defend. Don’t be surprised to see Western hovering around the top of the Frontier standings come March.
2012 Finish: T5th
2012-13: 6-4, 1-0
Head Coach: Kerrie DePell
Key Players: Dannielle Devenny (F, 6-0), Kelsey DeWit (C, 6-2), Mandy Machinal (G, 5-7).
Outlook: If Western has the best 1-2 punch in the paint this season, the Orediggers have perhaps the best front line with Kelsey DeWit, Danny Devenny and Jessic Sturm. Add in sensational guards Mandy Machinal and Brooke Pokorny and the Diggers’ should be a fierce contender over the next three months. Tech went to the national tournament back in 2011 and the Diggers’ have the makings of a tourney contender this season.
2012 Finish: T3rd
2012-13: 7-4, 0-1
Head Coach: Chris Mouat
Key Players: Nikki Tresch (G, 5-5), Jordan Bruursema (F, 6-0), Kylee Denham (G, 5-7).
Outlook: The Skylights pulled off a great turnaround a year ago, winning 23 games and reaching the Frontier semifinals. But they are coping with the loss of star guard Laramie Schwenke, as well as some early-season injury problems. Still, Northern has played another tough non-conference schedule, and MSU-N has the talent to contend. The emergence of young talent like Rachelle Bennett, Taylor Cummings and Kacie McKeon should give MSU-N added depth, and with the best home-court advanatage in the league, if Northern can win league games on the road, the Skylights will be in the hunt yet again.
Rocky Mountain College
2012 Finish: T3rd
2012-13: 4-5, 1-0
Head Coach: Brian Henderson
Key Players: Brittany Kumm (G, 5-4), Brittany Myers (F, 5-10).
Outlook: The Battlin Bears’ have been tough to figure out. Brian Henderson always has talented teams, but the Bears seem to fall just short in the postseason. Brittany Kumm is a dynamic scorer for Rocky, but the Bears are breaking in a relatively new and young lineup, so they may be a year away from being a serious contender in a loaded Frontier Conference.
2012 Finish: 8th
2012-13: 11-4, 1-0
Head Coach: Bill Himmelberg
Key Players: Kindra Jones (C, 6-3), Sydnee Burke (G, 5-5), Lindsey Abramson (F, 6-2).
Outlook: Picked to finish seventh in the Frontier, don’t expect the Argos to finish there. UGF is off to its best start in school history and is on the verge of a national ranking. UGF has a dominant front line with Kindra Jones and Lyndsey Abramson, and guards Sydnee Burke and Donica Chrest can score at will. UGF is quick, tall and athletic and these Argos aren’t the Frontier cellar dweller any longer.
2012 Finish: N/A
2012-13: 4-9, 0-1
Head Coach: Caleb Harrison
Key Players: Janae Moore (F, 5-11), Jess Bygate (F, 6-1)
Outlook: It will likely be a tough transition to Frontier play for the Blue Hawks. They have a first-year head coach and return just two starters from last year’s team. And while DSU is used to competing against Frontier squads, the nightly rigors of the league will probably be too much for the Blue Hawks this season. However, DSU does have a tall front line, and is a good rebiounding team, so that will help them compete each night.