By Ryan Divish
With autumn leaves just beginning to fall in Havre, it seems odd that basketball season is already upon us. But it is. The Montana State University-Northern men's and women's basketball teams have been practicing for about two weeks and will play their first games on Saturday when they take on their respective alumni squads.
It's a new beginning for both programs following last year's debacle. New coaches take over the Lights and Skylights programs hoping to revive what used to be perennial powers in the Frontier Conference.
Shawn Huse took over the Lights' head position after Brian Harrell quit. Huse brings a disciplined approach to his young team. The Lights return five players Kent Douglas, Charlie Ereaux, Landen Grant, Brian McGowan and Koire Rogers but none of the five saw significant minutes last season. Huse added 10 new players to join the remaining five and knows that it will take some time for his player to get comfortable playing together.
If one thing stands out about the 2002-2003 Lights, it's their size, or lack of it. Northern's tallest player is 6-foot-6-inch Dragon Cicvaric from Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Douglas and Ereaux are both 6 foot 5 and will be relied on heavily for rebounding.
The Light will face an alumni squad featuring former all-conference players Kevin Owens and Buck Merriweather. Also on the squad are former Lights Alex Nickelberry, Art Krueger, Shawn Wetzel, Tom Hennessy and Josh Larson.
Last year's season for the Skylights could best be summed up as a fiasco. Former coach Kevin Emerick and his much publicized problems with the university and players was like a bad soap opera.
His replacement last season, Mike Erickson, did an admirable job as the interim head coach after Emerick was removed. A year later, Erickson has had the interim tag removed from his title and is ready for a fresh start this season.
Erickson returns only a handful of players from last year's team. Consequently, he has spent the majority of the early practices on fundamentals and familiarizing team members with each other. For him the alumni game will be a good barometer to measure where his team is and what they need to work on.
The Skylight alumni squad will feature several mainstays. Charna Ophus, Kim (Fike) Finn, Kari (Fike) Filius, Nikki Fetters, Sheila Ausmus, Amanda Walters, Sarah Gaugler, Bobbie Remus, Shelly (Oakland) Stremcha and Wendy (Badgett) Clark are planning to suit up.
The Skylights game will tip off at 4 p.m., while the men get started at 8 p.m. The MSU-Northern volleyball team will play its match against Carroll College in between the two games.