By Heidi Boyum
Returning seniors Paula Owens and Tamecia Watkins are one of three pairs of seniors who formerly played college basketball together before transferring to Montana State University-Northern.
Owens and Watkins teamed up at Mesa Community College. Szudia Bragg and senior redshirt Davina Shoemake played at Phoenix Community College. Sarah Gaugler and Amanda Walter transferred to MSU-N from University of Great Falls.
"They're a talented group of seniors," Skylight coach Kevin Emerick said. "They work hard they all get along."
Owens returns as the starting center for the Skylights. As the leader inside, the Skylights will be looking to 6-foot Owens to rack up some points.
Watkins injured her knee in the sixth game of the season last year and is still recovering from reconstructive surgery. A 5-foot-10 guard, Watkins is a great scorer who will continue to improve as her knee strengthens Emerick said.
Shoemake started as a point guard last season, but opted to redshirt this season to put more time into her Community Service degree.
"Davina did well for us last year and we're hoping to see her back again next year," Emerick said.
After playing with Shoemake at PCC, 5-foot-10 forward Bragg transferred as a junior to Washington State University before transferring to MSU-N for her senior year.
"Szudia has just begun to scratch the surface of her talents," Emerick said. "We're looking to her to put some points on the board for us."
Walter, a 5-foot-10 forward, has played for four different school in four years. After a freshman season at Rocky she transferred to Miles City, then on to UGF where she played with 6-foot center Gaugler before they transferred to MSU-N.
"Sarah and Amanda are great role players," Emerick said. "They contribute a lot to the senior leadership and stability of the program."
Billings native Jenny Balgua returns for the Skylights. Sophomore Balgua stepped into the starting point guard position this season.
"Jenny is a completely different player then she was last season," Emerick said. "She has matured and her game is stronger. She is our hardest worker in practice she gives 100 percent, and always gives that same effort every time she steps on the floor."
Junior Angee Thomas joins the Skylights after averaging 19 points and 14 rebounds last season for the College of Marin in San Francisco.
Transfers Megan Woolf and Miranda Weiser will be strong at the one and two positions Emerick says. The 5-foot-8 Woolf previously played for the College of Eastern Utah and 5-foot-9 Weiser for University of Southern Colorado.
Emerick is expecting 5-foot-9 freshman Nichole Neill, a redshirt last season, to create some offense for the Skylights.
Brettney Vermandel, a 6-foot freshman center from Billings, is a much better player than originally thought and was not recruited hard enough, Emerick said.
Freshman volleyball standout Stephanie Lanfear will join the Skylights after the completion of the volleyball season. Emerick expects 5-foot-10 Lanfear to be strong in the two and three positions.
Emerick, who is assisted by Joan Steffen, finished his ball career at Mount Mercy in Iowa where he then scouted, recruited and coached as volunteer assistant for the next four years. Emerick then took as assistant coach position at Wisconsin Platteville for two years.
Emerick's first head coaching job took him to Oklahoma Panhandle State where his team went 5-22 the first year and 17-10 his second.
Emerick is in his second year as head coach of the Skylights and describes his team as kind of an unknown.
"We were picked fourth in the preseason," Emerick said. "We won't score as well as we did last year, but we'll defend better so we're looking to create a little offense with our defense."