Ask any former Montana State University-Northern Light or Skylight, and they’ll tell you that there are few things more emotional as a college basketball player than senior night inside the Armory Gymnasium.
It’s a night to celebrate and say goodbye to players who have meant so much, and given their all to the school, the community, the fans and to the name of the front of their jersey.
Saturday night will be a night just like that as four Northern seniors say goodbye to Havre when the Lights and Skylights take on the Westminster Griffins at the Armory Gymnasium.
The Skylights will honor three seniors, including Jordan Bruursema (6-0, Reed Point, MT), Kylee Denham (5-7, Malta, MT) and Nikki Tresch (5-5, Glenrock, Wyo.). All three are seniors who have meant a great deal to the Northern program, as together, over just the last two seasons, they’ve combined for 37 wins, including a special 21-win season and a trip to the Frontier Conference semifinals.
The trio also means a great deal to Northern head coach Chris Mouat, who was responsible for bring all three greats to Havre, Bruursema out of high school, Denham from MSU-Billings and Tresch from Gillette College in Gillette, Wyo.
“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach our three seniors,” Mouat said. “Each has come a long way in their career here, and they have worked to do right by the program. They are all excellent students, and all will graduate with excellent degrees. They have been leaders for us on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.
Bruursema, a three-year starter and a four-year player, who’s been at Northern since 2008, has averaged 10 points and five rebounds over her career. She's also shot better than 33 percent from the 3-point-line over that stretch.
“Jordan is definitely unique, because she's a five-year player,” Mouat said. “She's come a heck of a long way during her career here. She is among the league leaders in a lot of statistical categories and will finish with over 1,000 points for her career.”
Denham has also been a three-year starter for the Skylights after coming to Northern from Billings. In her career, she’s averaged nearly nine points and five rebounds per game, while being known as one of the most tenacious defenders in the league. Tresch has had a huge impact on the Skylights in the shortest amount of time. In less than two full seasons, she’s averaged close to 15 points per game, shot better than 45 percent from three, and has been amongst the NAIA leaders in the free-throw percentage for two straight seasons.
“Kylee transferred from MSU-Billings and has developed into one of the better defensive players I've had the opportunity to coach,” Mouat said. “She draws our opponent's toughest matchup nearly every night. On the offensive end, she's also made a lot of progress, and has hit big shots in key moments this year. She is also one of the most durable kids we've had. She's played through a ton physically.
“Nikki has made an impact from the very start of her time here,” he continued. “She is among the nation’s best 3-point shooters and has hit big three's for the past two years. Where she has developed a ton is in her ability to get to the foul line and on the defensive end. No question about it, they are a special group and will be missed when their careers come to a close. Collectively, they have provided great senior leadership and they will really be missed.”
Later Saturday night, the Lights will say goodbye, at least for the regular season, to a player who will certainly go down in Northern history. Devin Jackson has played for the Lights for the last four years, has been on two NAIA national tournament teams, has helped win back-to-back Frontier Conference titles, and has been a First-Team All-Conference performer as both a sophomore and junior, while in his senior season, he’s averaging 15 points and four assists per game and is certainly a Frontier Player of the Year candidate, as well as a sure-fire NAIA All-American.
And while Jackson has been one of the true staples over a great four-year run the Lights are on, Northern head coach Shawn Huse sees him as even more than that.
“Devin is one of my most favorite guys I’ve ever coached,” Huse said. “He’s obviously been a great player for us for four years. But he’s been so much more for our program than just a great player. He’s came to Havre a long way from home, and he’s been without his family for much of that time. So he bought into our program and really made Havre his home and Northern his family for the time he’s been here. He’s going to graduate at the end of this semester, he’s been a great leader on our team, he’s been a great student-athlete and of course, an all-conference performer. I just couldn’t be more proud of him for all he’s achieved.”
And Jackson has achieved plenty on basically three completely different teams. He was a newcomer, playing as a freshman out of Denver, Colo. during the 2009-10 season. Then, he helped lead the Lights powerhouse teams of the last two years, before starting over and being the lone senior leader on this year’s squad, which is now a remarkable 22-5 on the season.
For his career, Jackson has averaged 13 points, four rebounds and three assists per game, he’s a member of Northern’s illustrious 1,000-point club with 1,294 career points, and he’s helped the Lights to four straight 20-win seasons.
“He’s been great,” Huse said. “He’s been everything we hoped he would be when we recruited him, and more. I’m just so proud of him, and I’m always going to have a special place in my heart for Devin Jackson.”
All of Northern’s seniors will be honored Saturday night. The Skylights host Westminster at 6 p.m. and the Lights take on the Griffins in a nationally-ranked showdown at 8 p.m. at the Armory Gymnasium.