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Skylights face NAIA powers

 

November 24, 2017

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Kealani Sagapolu, right, and the Montana State University-Northern Skylights are in Jackson, Tennessee, for a pair of games at the prestigious Rotary Classic. Northern plays No. 6 Campbellsville today and Martin Methodist Saturday.

One tough trip down, an even tougher one still to go for the Montana State University-Northern Skylights.

After playing two NCAA Division II opponents last weekend in St. George, Utah, the Skylights headed east for Thanksgiving, and today, they'll start their two-game run at the second-annual Rotary Classic in Jackson, Tennessee.

The No. 21 (Skylights (5-1) are making their second appearance at the tournament, which features much of the Top 25 teams in the NAIA Women's Coaches Poll. So, while the games will be tough, it will be a great way for the Skylights to prepare for next weekend's Frontier Conference openers.

"Playing in this tournament for a second year in a row is a really big deal for our team," Northern head coach Chris Mouat said. "They understand we are going to see some of the very best competition out there. We are going in limping a bit with a few injuries and will probably be short-handed at a few spots, so we will need to be at our best to compete in both games. I think our experience in St. George was really good preparation not only for this tournament but for our upcoming Frontier Conference games."

Competition is everything right now for the Skylights. They played extremely well in St. George, and defensively, Northern is doing what it always does, which is hold teams down. Offensively, in spite of new players in new roles, Northern is also playing at a high level, led by senior Jacy Thompson and sophomore Shiloh McCormick, who combine to average 22 points per game. Senior Brandy Lambourne has also scored in double figures in four straight games, while Peyton Filius and Jessica Curl are giving the Skylights plenty of punch, too.

And Northern will need to be sharp in every phase in Tennessee.

Today, MSU-N takes on sixth-ranked Campbellsville University. The Tigers are 6-0 and are coming off a trip to the Final Four at last year's NAIA national tournament in Billings. They already have wins over No. 11 Bethel, No. 25 Talladega and No. 15 Central Methodist on their resume, so the Skylights will be up against a big challenge this afternoon.

"Campbellsville was a Final Four team last year at the national tournament and they return a ton of good players," Mouat said. "They are one of the elite teams in the NAIA.  They play a really good zone and are tough to score against. Plus, they have a very explosive offense.  They have already played a ton of games against some of the best teams in the NAIA and have a chance to be the number one team in the nation when the next poll comes out.  We are going to have to be very sharp on offense, limit our turnovers, and hit shots against their zone."

Northern won't get any rest after playing the Tigers today. On Saturday, the Skylights turn right around and battle Martin Methodist University, another NAIA tournament team from last season, and a squad that is receiving votes in the NAIA Poll. The Red Hawks are 6-2 on the season, and have played some of the premier teams in the country, including Campbellsville and No. 5 Shawnee State.

"Martin Methodist is another very athletic team from the Southern States Athletic Conference," Mouat said.  "They have also played a bunch of really good teams early this season.  They will mix things up a little bit defensively and they can score on offense.  They pose a lot of challenges with their quickness and length."

And while wins will be tough to come by this weekend, the Skylights are looking forward to playing the best, especially one week ahead of Frontier play, which starts with visits to the Armory from Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College.

"We knew that this stretch of the season was going to be tough, and it's going to test us in many ways," Mouat said.  "These four games (St. George and Jackson) will allow us to play against four completely different styles of play."

The Skylights play Campbellsville today at 4, while they take on Martin Methodist Saturday at 2 p.m. Both games take place in Jackson, Tennessee, the former site of the NAIA women's national tournament.

 

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