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George Ferguson Column: Thank you MSU-Northern basketball

From the Fringe...

 


The season is over for both the Montana State University-Northern men's and women's basketball teams. And while their seasons were decidedly different, the Lights and Skylights were both feeling the sting of tough losses the last couple nights.

And while it will certainly take both teams some time to get over, my first thought now that the dust has settled on another year of Northern basketball is, if you didn't appreciate what these teams were and what they did this season, then I'm not sure what you can appreciate.

Let's start with the Skylights. It was a brutally tough Frontier Conference season for Northern. After four straight NAIA national tournaments, and over five seasons spent ranked in the NAIA Top 25, the Skylights endured a tumultuous year.

Some of it was to be expected. In the last three years, the Skylights have graduated two First-Team NAIA All-Americans. Hell, some teams never have one First-Team All-American, let alone two that go back-to-back. And when those types of players leave, things don't always go smoothly.

Northern was also riddled with injuries this season, and the heart and soul of the team, senior Jacy Thompson, was lost for the remainder of her final year at Northern. The loss of Thompson was felt throughout the Skylight program, but, it wasn't the only major injury Northern had to endure. Shiloh McCormick and Kealani Sagapolu missed time, as did freshman point guard Naomi Terry. At some points during conference play, the Skylights sometimes were forced to practice with just or seven players.

Then there was the tough losing streak. Northern lost 11 straight games in league play after January first, and so many of those games were close, intense battles that certainly could have gone the other way. MSU-N rebounded in February, and battled some of the top teams in the league right down to the wire. And yet, many nights, the Skylights were left with little or nothing to show for their efforts.

And remember, when you were where the Skylights were just a year earlier, in the national tourney and playing for the Frontier title, the season they just endured had to be brutally, not just physically, but especially mentally.

But here's the thing. Northern never, ever looked like a last-place team. And, they played hard every minute, every quarter and every night, no matter what their record was, and no matter how bleak things looked at times. Yes, these Skylights always showed the heart of a champion, and head coach Chris Mouat never lost sight of that.

"When you go through a season like this, a lot of teams might have folded their tent," Mouat said. "It would have been pretty easy to throw in the towel, or give up. Or kids never did that. They cared, no matter how tough things got, they always cared, they always worked hard and they went out every single night and gave their maximum effort. That means a lot to me. And I'm so thankful and so proud of them for that."

It's also an indictment on how much Mouat means to his team. The fact that the Skylights not only didn't throw in the towel, but they played every game as if they still had a chance to win the Frontier championship, that speaks volumes to not only the character of this Northern team, but the great coaching and leadership Mouat shows, and has always shown in his tenure at Northern.

Yes, this Skylight team might be remembered for having a losing season, or whatever by some, but not by me. I'll always remember this Skylight team for their heart, their fight and their dedication to the MSU-N program.

The same can be said for head coach Shawn Huse's Lights. They showed heart, character and toughness all season long, and yet, they didn't always get the results they were hoping for.

And while their season came to a heartbreaking end on Tuesday night, that's not the memory I'll have of these Lights.

No, I'm always going to remember how much fun this team was to watch. If you love modern day college basketball, you had to love watching these Lights. Sure, they still hung their hat on defense, and toughness and teamwork. All those things have always defined a Shawn Huse coached squad.

But, inside and out, this Northern team always had you on the edge of your seat.

Getting to watch Ryan Reeves play this season was an absolute treat. I've been covering Northern full-time since 2006 and I have never seen a player like Reeves before, not with the Lights, or any team that has come into the Armory to play them. I really hope people truly understand what they got to witness in Reeves the last three seasons, but especially this one. He was simply one of a kind.

And Reeves being so fun to watch exemplified this Northern team. Charles Porter playing with his hair on fire every single night, Adam Huse leading an army of 3-point bombers, the Lights running up and down the floor, playing their hearts out in the process, this Northern squad was very unique and extremely fun to watch, win or lose.

The teams was, and will always be special to Huse too.

"I really felt like we had a team that could go on an unbelievable run in the postseason had we gotten by Rocky tonight," Huse said after Tuesday's game. "We didn't, but we went out swinging. It didn't go our way at the end, and that's sports. But I'm extremely proud of this whole team for this season they've had. They need to hold their heads up high, because they've given our program everything they had, starting with our great senior leaders. I will miss this team and this season very much."

I'm going to miss these Lights too. But even more so, I'm going to miss Northern basketball. It's going to be a long six months without it. But, on the other hand, because of all of the things both Northern teams showcased this season, talent, heart, character, toughness, intensity, hard work, and so much more, I'm not going to forget either team anytime soon.

So, I know it's hard for all of the Northern players and coaches to see right now, so soon after their seasons came to a close, but, on behalf of everybody who loves or enjoys Northern hoops, I'll just say thank you. Thank you to all the Northern seniors, thank you to every player who gave their blood, sweat and tears to this season, and thank you to coach Mouat and coach Huse. We appreciate everything you gave us this season, and we'll see you again very soon.

 

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