By Tiffany L. Rehbein
For the first time in school history, two nationally-ranked NAIA schools will come head-to-head in basketball action at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
And Havre, one of those teams is the Skylights.
The Skylights, ranked 13th nationally in a preseason poll, will host the Skylight Invitational Friday and Saturday. Carroll College of Helena, Univeristy of Mary of Bismarck, N.D., and Wayland Baptist, from Texas, will be playing.
"A preseason poll doesn't mean jack," said head coach Ray Peters. "Now we've got to go out there and prove it."
Friday, the Skylights (1-0) will face the University of Mary, a team that made it to the "Sweet 16" last season, and is returning four starters from last year's successful team.
"They start five players who are definitely offensive threats," Peters said.
Mary's front line includes a 6-foot-1, and a 5-foot-11 player. Tonya Straabe, at 5-foot-11, could look to get the ball at the high post. Her athleticism would allow her to go any direction from that position, Peters said.
Jolene Gartner, a senior, is a perimeter shooter for Mary. From anywhere on the floor, Gartner can drain the 10-foot shot.
Veteran All-Conference Lisa Moss will pose a threat to the Skylights.
"She's got good quickness," Peters said. "She'll shake you, and go left and go right. She'll stop and pop, and I'm talking stop and pop the 3-pointer."
Senior Thai Goecke, Mary's most consistent player and Jessica Anderson, a 5-foot-9 forward, round out Mary's roster.
"Our defense will be tested," Peters said. "Our team defense will really be tested."
The Skylights will face Wayland Baptist, the 10th-ranked team nationally, Saturday night. The Flying Queens come from one of the strongest basketball conferences in the nation, Peters said.
The Sooner Athletic Conference, of which the Flying Queens belong, has boasted the national champion team during the past five years.
"It has been a very, very solid program year in and year out," Peters said. "This is a first, because we have never brought in quality opponents like this in the past."
With the loss of All-American Hazel Taylor to graduation, Geronica Tucker, a 6-foot forward who transferred from the University of Texas-San Antonio, could pose the greatest threat for the Flying Queens.
Jacqueline Godoy, an honorable mention All-American from Brazil, Shaun Weaver, a junior guard, and 6-foot-1 Jamie Parker are also tough for the Texas team.
"They'll try to push it up and play fast," Peters said. "They are a very good half-court team, usually they are very athletic and they'll play great defense. You don't become a top-five team in the nation and not be able to do that."
The key to the Skylights' success will be defense, Peters said.
"We've just got to create high percentage shots for ourselves, and then, no matter what defense we're in, we've got to be ready," Peters said. "We're going to get open shots, I don't care who we play. We've got to be able to knock down our open shots from the perimeter."
Jana Smith, a freshman from Ronan, is one Skylight who can punch in the perimeter shot. In an opening-weekend exhibition game against the University of Lethbridge, Smith went 7-for-7 from the field and tallied a team-high 15 points.
Kristine Noel, a senior off-guard, notched 11 points in little more than 15 minutes of play last weekend in the Skylights 86-63 win over Black Hills State. Noel is in her first season back after reconstructive knee surgery.
Another shooter, Abby Hjorth, a junior transfer from Utah, is a forward for Northern. Hjorth had 15 points and five assists last weekend.
Laura Munson, a sophomore from Chinook, proved she was a power inside when she scored 23 points against Black Hills State. Munson went 8-for-12 from the field and 7-for-11 from the free throw line in the contest.
Junior Brianne Dunn's start will be questionable due to an ankle injury.
Junior guard Anna Fabatz and junior center Kelsey Burgmaier have come off the bench strong for the Skylights in the preseason, hitting some big shots in the early games.
"We're just working on refining the things we've got in place already," Peters said. "To play Skylights' basketball is learning how to play intense for 40 minutes. Some of the new people are still learning what that means."
"This tournament is exciting for us," Peters continued. "Our kids are excited, and I want to play the best that we can, because it tells us where we're at."
Friday at 5 p.m., Carroll will face Wayland Baptist, followed by the Skylights taking on the University of Mary at 7 p.m. Saturday, Carroll will face Mary at 5 p.m., and the Skylights will take on the Flying Queens at 7 p.m. at the Northern gymnasium.