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Skylight pride was on display at the national tournament

 

March 20, 2017

Colin Thompson

Northern's Natalee Faupel, left, was brilliant again in the Skylights' Sweet 16 loss to Vanguard at the NAIA national tournament in Billings. And as she noted afterward, the Skylights left it all on the floor in Billings.

BILLINGS — The Montana State University-Northern Women’s basketball team fell short of its ultimate goal at the NAIA national tournament, but when you think about it, only one team truly walks away happy when it’s all said and done.

But despite bowing out in the second round of the tournament, the Skylights have plenty to be proud of. Seniors such as Natalee Faupel and Molly Kreycik, particularly so, as they both played key roles in Northern establishing itself as one of the consistently good teams in the NAIA.

Northern basketball has been good for a long time, especially under head coach Chris Mouat, who has coached the Skylights to five berths in the national tournament, including four straight. MSU-N has won at least one game in three of those four years and this senior class, has been apart of five victories on the biggest stage in NAIA Women’s basketball. For a small school in Havre, Montana — that’s no small feat.

“I am really proud of where our program is at,” Mouat said. “But it’s where it is because of these players. They are what it’s all about and it’s gotten to this point because all of the work that they have put into it. So I am very proud of that and very proud of them.”

Certainly, the Skylights didn’t make the Fab Four or win a national championship, which is the goal for every team in attendance. No coach or player is ever playing for second and at the college level, moral victories don’t really exist. But building championship-level programs doesn’t occur overnight. It takes time to build that foundation and to keep building on it, and it takes even more effort.

“We have proven we can compete with anyone these last four years,” Mouat said. “This group has accomplished a lot. We have to say goodbye to some great players, and we will have a lot of work to do, but it has been a great experience with this team.”

It’s hard to see it now, especially for players like Faupel and Kreycik, who have played their final collegiate games, but both players, have achieved plenty. Faupel is a two-time All-American and the 2016 Frontier Player of the Year. Kreycik has been the point guard for three years, and both were part of Northern’s ascension to new heights on the national stage.

“It was an amazing four years,” Faupel said. “I have been on great teams, had great coaches and played with great players. Honestly, it was an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. I will forever be a Skylight.”

Personally, I don’t know this Skylights team well. My normal beat is covering high school basketball. So the first time I saw this team with my own eyes was the Frontier Conference semifinals against the University of Montana-Western. But that night and each game since, I have come away impressed with Skylights basketball and, truthfully, it’s hard not to be.

While there were more talented teams at the national tournament and even in the Frontier, no teams plays harder, night in and night out than the Skylights. Their effort and their intensity is endearing. They don’t do anything fancy and a lot of what they do is based on defense, but they battle, they grind and they win. And for two days in Billings, they stayed true to themselves and if a play here or there had gone another way, they might still be playing.

“Of course we wanted to win,” Faupel said. “But we played our hearts out. We played Skylights basketball and that’s all you can ask for. I know everyone gave their all and we’re proud of the way that we went out.”

Faupel, who put together one of the most prolific careers in the history of Northern basketball, also went out with a bang, scoring 48 points in two games at the national tournament. She also scored 12 points in the final quarter of her final game, as she did everything she could to will her team to the next round.

“She’s amazing,” Mouat said. “There has been so much said about her as a basketball player that everyone knows her and her accomplishments and her accolades and all that. But beyond that, she’s such a great person and such a great representative of our program. That’s what we expect out of all our players, so I am as proud of her as a person as I am a player. And that’s with all our players, I am proud of them as people, not just as players.”

Mouat is right to be proud of his players because, together, they have built a program that can compete at the national level, and it’s one that everyone associated with Montana State University-Northern can be proud of, too.

 

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