By Joe Whalen
The signatures of senior transfers Sarah Gaugler and Amanda Walter, key reserves on the Montana State University-Northern womens basketball team, appeared on a petition signed by eight University of Great Falls players last spring that urged the Argos' athletic department and the school's administration to revaluate the team's coaching staff.
The ink effectively ended their playing days in Great Falls.
Saturday night at the Northern Invitational, Gaugler and Walter penned a personal response to the episode by coming off the bench and combining for 21 points to help lead the Skylights to a 103-63 victory over the Argos in Havre.
"It felt awesome," said Gaugler, who scored 19 points behind 8-of-9 shooting from the field. "Basically, we had our scholarships taken away. They released us. So it felt great to beat them."
Conversely, the absence of former Skylights' guard Lana (Quintyne) Metesh disrupted the Argos' shot at an upset. Metesh, who transferred to Great Falls this year, led the Argos in scoring until leaving the program last week.
"Emotionally, we're down right now," Great Falls coach Scott Patera said. "(Metesh) just quit. That's all I can say. But I take nothing away from Northern. They played a great game tonight."
While the transfers occupied the subtext, Skylights' senior Paula Owens defined the game plan. The versatile six-foot center scored a season-high 27 points, most of them from the low post or foul line, and contributed six rebounds to Northern's 50-39 edge on the boards. Early in the second half, Owens retreated to the perimeter and nailed a three-pointer.
"We out-rebounded them. It's just part of being a post player," Owens said, adding, "We came out focused and ready to play tonight, especially because they're a conference opponent."
Great Falls took an early 9-8 lead, but Northern forged an 11-0 run behind baskets from Gaugler, junior guard Miranda Weiser and freshman center Brettney Vermandel to take control of the game midway through the first half. Vermandel finished with 12 points, Weiser with 11 and a game-high six assists.
The only stalemate took place in the backcourt, as sophomore Jenny Balgua of Northern, an aggressive point guard, met stiff resistance in the play of Great Falls senior Deena Wisneiwski. Balgua had 11 points and five assists, Wisneiwski 13 points and two assists. The Skylights (4-2) and the Argos (2-5) successfully isolated their point guards in the low post on several occasions, with Balgua and Wisneiwski both scoring routine baskets.
"She's a good player," Balgua said of Wisneiwski. "But we have a really strong inside game. Paula Owens did a great job inside. She couldn't be stopped tonight."
The victory followed on the heels of Northern's 85-29 rout of Medicine Hat College Friday night. With the Rattlers clinging to an early 11-10 lead, Northern's reserves entered the game and sparked a 42-0 run that lasted 17 minutes-24 seconds. For the weekend, the Skylights shot 50 percent from two-point range and 34 percent from beyond the arc.
"As a team, we made progress running our offense and locating shooters in transition," Northern coach Kevin Emerick said. "Overall, we had better rebounding and boxing out. But we've got a long way to go. The teams we have to face are going to get a lot better."
After Saturday's outcome against Great Falls, a second-year program, Gaugler and Walter stood outside the locker room and smiled about their abilities to make fast and smooth transitions.
"It's nice to know we made the right decision by coming here to Northern," Walter said.