By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Coming off a phenomenal 28-4 record and finishing seventh in NAIA Division I for the first time in school history, the MSU-Northern Skylights basketball team is looking toward a top-notch schedule to prepare it for this season.
This is one of the toughest schedules theyve seen here, said head coach Ray Peters. But, its one of the reasons youve seen us do well at the national tournament. Im not afraid to lose in the preseason to be a better team at the end of the year.
The Skylights, who have been in practice for more than two weeks, open at Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, Oct. 22-23.
Our strength is going to lie in the fact that were going to do a lot of things fairly good, Peters said.
The Skylights hope to hone their bench depth through the preseason and through the tough games they will play.
Six-foot Kelsy Burgmaier of Power, 6-foot Lynn Kansteiner and 6-foot-1 Laura Munson of Chinook are three post players who look to shoot tough inside at the post position.
Burgmaier can also shoot the 3-pointer, which could make her difficult to defend. Also on the outside, senior Kristine Noel looks to shoot well.
Returning after a red-shirt year for reconstructive knee surgery, Noel lends to team speed and poses a threat from the 17-foot range.
Junior Anna Fabatz of Butte returns to the squad. Last season, Fabatz was ranked in the top 10 for more than half the season at 3-point accuracy. Fabatz shot 42 percent from the arc last season, which notched her at No. 5 in the Frontier Conference.
Fabatz also shot 44 percent from the field, good for a seventh place standing in the conference. From the free throw line, Fabatz shot 81 percent on the year and was fourth overall in the conference.
Due to team quickness, the Skylights will use the fastbreak more this year, and junior Abby Hjorth, a transfer from Salt Lake City, could get the go-to on the break.
Hjorth is a great finisher and, as a forward, can create some good looks at the basket.
Jami Jackson of Ronan is a returning senior for the Skylights. Jackson underwent off-season foot surgery, but is recovering well and will play at the forward position.
Myra Bagley of Dutton and Jana Smith are two freshman on the Skylights roster. Smith, a standout at Ronan High School, is one of the top recruits as a frosh, Peters said.
Junior Brianne Dunn, who has started every game as a freshman and sophomore, shot 50 percent from the field last season and returns to the lineup at forward.
Jackie Rasnick, a junior from Twin Falls, will also play at the forward position for Northern.
Were a committee, Peters said. Weve always gotten it done as a team. You just dont get as far as my teams have gotten without a team concept.
Last season, the team concept left Northern at the top of every basketball stat in the conference. The Skylights led team scoring, averaging 65.3 points per game to lead the Frontier Conference.
However, behind that top scoring percentage were Dani Davison, Charlene Noreen and Missy Ross, three outstanding players who were lost to graduation.
Last year, we had great shooters, so we were a perimeter team, Peters said. That was the system we played. Now, somebody else has to step up. Its a new system, a new team, a new focus.
The Skylights led in team rebounds, averaging 34.1 per game. Again, top rebounder Ross has graduated.
The Skylights shot 43.6 percent from the field to lead the conference. Northern shot 73.1 percent from the foul line to stand at No. 1 in the Frontier. They also led the conference shooting 40.1 percent from the 3-point line.
One weakness of the Skylights this year is the fact that there is not one dominant player. However, Peters is using that to his advantage.
We really dont have a dominant go-to person, Peters said. Hopefully, that will make us a difficult to guard as a team. Weve got shooters and were shooting the ball better from the post position than we had in the past.
Defensively, team quickness could lend to a tough full-court and half-court pressure team. Ball movement in the set offense could keep the defense out of sorts against the Skylights.
Peters, in his fourth year at Northern, has posted an 80-20 record, while he has accumulated a 228-93 overall record in 10 total years as a head coach.
His wife, Jessica, the head Northern golf coach, will assist again this year.
The Skylights open at home against Black Hills State, a team ranked in the top 15 nationally.
The nice thing about our schedule is we play some big-time opponents early on and we play at home, Peters said.
At the Skylight Invitational, Nov. 12-13, Wayland Baptist and University of Mary will play at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
Wayland Baptist is ranked in the top five nationally, while U of Mary is in the top 15 in NAIA Division II. Five of the Skylights first six opponents are ranked nationally.
We might be over our head a little bit as far as the schedule, Peters said. I will try to play the best schedule as I possibly can to make us a better tournament team. I think its great to treat our fans to some big-time opponents, instead of playing the same team four times.