By Tiffany L. Rehbein
It will be two full days of top-caliber basketball action at the MSU-Northern gymnasium this weekend.
Friday, the Skylights (1-2) will play 14th-ranked Minot State Beavers. The two teams met three times last season, with the Skylights winning each affair.
The Beavers, who were knocked from playing in the national tournament by the University of Mary last season, return four starters to their lineup.
Seniors Jaimi Kenyon, Melissa Mitchell, sophomore Janna Olson, freshman Kayla Blom, and junior Tara Lavachek will play strong for the Beavers.
Olson, a 6-foot center, was the Beavers leading rebounder and one of the top scorers last season.
"We're going to have to contain Olson on the block," head coach Ray Peters said. "She's very good at sealing, and if you get caught on the side, she'll drop-step and score on you."
However, the Beavers might struggle with the loss of All-American Carol Hayes to graduation.
Senior Mandy Mitchell or Jamie Graham of Darby might get the start to replace Hayes. Mitchell and Lavacheck are both strong on the perimeter and penetration drive.
An aggressive Beaver defense might look to trap in the half court and will matchup, most likely, with a zone, Peters said.
Saturday, the Skylights will face Vanguard University, a Southern California school.
"They are a lot like us," Peters said. "They are a highly-ranked team, but they have a number of new players."
The Vanguard program boasts no seniors on its 1999 roster. However, they have three freshmen and one sophomore who are more than 6 feet tall. Veteran Rachel Fiske is a 5-foot-11 junior forward.
During the course of two games, the team shot 55 3-pointers, making more than 40 percent.
"With the perimeter shooters, it makes it very difficult to trap inside," Peters said. "They are a lot like Wayland Baptist as far as a half-court pressure team. They would prefer to play a quick-pace game."
The Skylights, with their young roster, also look to push the ball at this point in the season.
"We're at our best right now when we play fast," Peters said. "We haven't quite developed, yet, being deliberate in the half court, but we're working on that. We are much better when we can get up and down the floor."
Freshman Jana Smith aids in that category. The guard from Ronan averages more than 13 points per game for the Skylights, including shooting 78 percent from the free throw line during the past three games.
Senior guard Kristine Noel has been tough this season offensively for the Skylights. Noel is averaging 12 points per game for the Skylights. She went 3-for-3 from 3-point land against the University of Mary last Friday.
Five-foot-9 junior Abby Hjorth also gets the start for Northern. The junior college transfer hit 6-for-13 field goals in the opening-season game and notched 15 points in the 86-63 win over Black Hills State.
Center Laura Munson of Chinook might pose problems for the lanky Vanguard team with her 6-foot-1 frame. Munson put together a 23-point game against Black Hills State, including shooting more than 66 percent from the field.
Anna Fabatz, Kelsy Burgmaier, Myra Bagley, Jennifer Young, and Lynn Kansteiner have all proven they can come off the bench and spark the floor.
Junior floor leader Brianne Dunn, who missed last week's action against two nationally-ranked teams, has practiced throughout this week, and, Northern trainers said, she most likely will get to play. However, she will probably see limited time on the floor.
Frontier Conference opponent Rocky Mountain College, who was picked by coaches in a preseason poll to finish fifth in the league, will kick-off the tournament at 2 p.m. when they face Vanguard. The Skylights will play at 6 p.m. both nights at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
After dropping back-to-back games last weekend -- a 66-63 loss to the University of Mary Friday and an 80-60 loss to Wayland Baptist Saturday -- the Skylights have endured an intense week of practice.
"There will be a lot of basketball this weekend," Peters said. "It will be a great opportunity for us to get better."