By Ryan Divish
For success in the Frontier Conference, you must be able to win on the road. It isn't easy as it sounds it's something that must be learned. The Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team will get plenty of opportunities to learn. The Skylights will travel to Spearfish, SD to take on the Black Hills State Yellow Jackets tonight in a non-conference basketball game.
"The girls have to understand that playing on the road is tough," said head coach Mike Erickson. "There is the travel, playing in unfamiliar gyms and spending so much time together. It's a good team bonding thing."
Last week the Skylights saw most of Eastern Montana and much of North Dakota as they dropped a pair of tough road games at Minot State and Valley City State.
"We're 0-4 right now, but we could very easily be 4-0," Erickson said.
Indeed, Northern in its first four games of the season has been plagued by turnovers and mental breakdowns. They are annoying mistakes to Erickson, but one to be expected with a team that has only a few returning players and seven new faces.
"Our bench has to be more focused," Erickson said. "We can't have the mental breakdowns we've had. It seems like all of our turnovers are coming in the second 10 minutes of the first half which is when we have our starters out. Valley and Minot didn't beat us, we bear ourselves."
The Skylights played their last two games without senior captain Miranda Valley, who is out with a broken bone in her foot. Erickson admits not having Valley was a difficult adjustment for his young team.
"Miranda is the glue," Erickson said. "She's the glue offensively, defensively and the glue on and off the court. She doesn't turn the ball over and is a calming influence on our team."
Valley is hoping to return in about three weeks. Until then Northern will simply have make due.
"It forces the others to step up," Erickson said. "They know their roles have increased."
Besides spending all of November playing on the road, Northern isn't playing slouches. This week the Skylights have a nice little 1,000 mile round trip to take on a Black Hill State squad that returns most of their players off that won the DAC-10 conference and qualified for the 2001-2002 NAIA national tournament.
"They're a good team that is basically the same as the team that qualified for nationals," Erickson said. "They like to get up and down the floor and get a ton of quick shots."
The up-tempo game is something that Northern favors. After the past two games, Erickson is looking to pick it up even more.
"We need to look for more quick shots and not be afraid to shoot after a couple of passes," Erickson said. "With the way we've been turning it over, I'd rather get a shot off instead of a turnover."
Northern will rely heavily on the play of senior guard Davina Shoemake, who has asserted herself in Valley's absence. Erickson has also been pleased with the play of freshmen Katie Zilkoski and Kristal Lohse.
"Katie has seen her role increase and is getting better every minute," Erickson said. "Kristal Lohse has been playing extremely well lately and is starting to contribute."
Northern and Black Hills State tips off at 6 p.m. tonight at the Donald E. Young Sports & Fitness Center on the Black Hills State University campus in Spearfish, SD.