The Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team is coming off a stellar 2011-12 campaign, and now the Skylights are looking to take it even further.
A season ago, Northern rolled to 21 wins with just nine losses and they finished third at 7-7 in a truly loaded Frontier Conference. By
most standards, Northern was an NAIA national tournament team a year ago, but it wasn’t to be as the Skylights were left out of the big dance, even after reaching the Frontier semifinals.
Never-the-less, that fact doesn’t diminish the kind of season Northern had a year ago, and with four starters back, things are looking up for MSU-N this season. A season in which the Skylights begin with games tonight against Concordia of Alberta and Saturday night against King’s College in Edmonton, Alberta.
“We’re excited for this season,” Northern head coach Chris Mouat, who begins his 8th season in Havre said. “It’s certainly going to be a work in progress, as we have to blend in some new players. But we feel really good about what we accomplished as a program last year and we want to build on that this season.”
MSU-N has a solid nucleus of returnees to build around too.
Gone is NAIA All-American point guard Laramie Schwenke, who averaged 17 points and six rebounds per game while leading the NAIA in 3-point percentage a year ago. But the Skylights return four starters in seniors Jordan Bruursema (6-0, 13 ppg, 7 rpg), Nikki Tresch (5-5, 11 ppg) and Kylee Denham (5-8, 9 ppg), as well as junior forward Laci Keller (6-1, 9 ppg). And not only does MSU-N return four starters, but the Skylights return some key players off the bench, including sophomore point guard Taylor Cummings, who gave them key minutes a year ago, as well as sophomore Rachelle Bennett, who Mouat says has really blossomed in the offseason. Also back is junior forward Michaela Howe-Cobb (6-1) and sophomore forward Leah Olson (5-10), so the Skylights have plenty of veteran talent on the roster heading into a brand new season. Freshman Macey Cox will also join the roster this year after red-shirting last season.
“It’s never easy to fill a void like the one Laramie left behind,” Mouat said. “She was an all-american and she had an amazing career at Northern. But with the four starters we return, we have some really good leadership, and we’ll do that more by committee this season. Those four are all veteran players who will be big for us this season. And Taylor and Rachelle are ready to go. They both gave us really good minutes last year, but both of them have improved a ton in the offseason and they are ready to take on increased roles this season. So we feel fortunate to have so many kids back that understand what we’re trying to do, and where we’re trying to go this season.”
But with every new college basketball season comes change, and the Skylights will have some new faces in the rotation, especially in the post where 6-1 transfer Maurisha McKissic will fill a big need in the paint. Northern will also look to Miles City transfer Kassie Barta (5-8) to play a big part in the backcourt, and true freshman Kacie McKeon (5-8) comes to Northern from Butte Central High School ready to have an immediate impact.
“Those three players will need to have an impact for us right away,” Mouat said. “Maurisha is a strong, physical player who can rebound and defend. When Kassie Barta gets going, she’s as good as anyone from the 3-point-line. She can really fill it up and she understands our system. And Kacie was one of the better guards in high school basketball in Montana last season. She’s athletic, she can score the ball and she can defend. She’s coming in here ready to play right away.”
And the new Skylights will need to be ready to play, because, as always, Northern takes on a tough non-conference schedule in order to get ready for the rigors of the Frontier Conference.
MSU-N’s home opener is set for Oct. 26 against a very good University of Lethbridge team, and a road trip to the famed University of Montana Lady Griz is looming in early November. The Skylights play a tough GSAC team in Concordia of California in Great Falls near the end of November before opening league play against Carroll College on Nov. 30 in Havre.
The rest of 2012 will have MSU-N on a three-game road trip to Oregon in early December and closing out the month with a game against GSAC power The Master’s College in California. Sandwiched in between will be home contests against Walla Walla University. Northern re-opens league play Jan. 3-4 with games against Dickinson State and Rocky Mountain College, respectively.
“Our schedule isn’t going to be easy,” Mouat said. “We will be challenged right away. We’re going up to Canada and we’re playing FIBA rules so that will be a challenge and of course we go to Missoula to play the Lady Griz. We have games against GSAC teams this year and a couple of really long road trips, so as always, we’re going to be tested in these first couple of months. But that’s good for us. That’s why we schedule the way we do and we’ll embrace those challenges and be a better team because of them.
“We’re very excited about this season,” he continued. “But it’s a long season, and right now, we’re focused on getting everyone on the same page and getting comfortable with each other out on the floor. But in the big picture, we want to progress and go forward from the success we had last year. At season’s end, we want to be able to look back and say we made this one a good one.”
After this weekend’s games in Edmonton, Northern will have two weeks off before opening its home schedule against Lethbridge on Oct. 26.
Skylights at home
Oct. 26 vs Lethrbridge, 5 p..m.
Nov. 9-10 vs Culver-Stckton, 7 p.m.
Nov. 29 vs Carroll College, 6 p.m.
Dec. 13 vs Walla Walla, 7 p.m.
Dec. 15 vs Walla Walla, 7 p.m.
Jan. 3 vs RMC, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 4 vs DSU, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 18 vs Montana Tech, 6 p.m.
Jan. 19 vs LC State, 6 p.m.
Feb. 1 vs Great Falls, 6 p.m.
Feb. 14 vs UM-Western., 6 p.m.
Feb. 15 vs Westminster, 6:30 p.m.