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Skylights start fresh with playoff game at Western


Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Sydney Hovde, left, goes around a Montana Western defender during a Frontier Conference women's game back in December in the Armory Gymnasium. The Skylights play the nationally ranked Bulldogs for a fourth time this season when they travel to Dillon for a first-round playoff game tonight. The winner advances to the Frontier semifinals Saturday.

The last two months have been rough on the Montana State University-Northern Skylights. Once upon a time, Northern was 4-0 in the Frontier Conference and ranked No. 11 in the NAIA. But a series of devastating injuries ended up derailing Northern's bright season.

"We've been though some tough circumstances this season," Northern head coach Chris Mouat said. "And we make no excuses, but at the same time, that's reality. We've had some of our top players be out for long periods of time, so that's been tough. But that's also why I'm so proud of this group. They've never hung their heads, they've never stopped working, they've battled. And they'll continue to battle."

The battle continues tonight for Northern (4-14, 15-15) when the Skylights visit No. 17 Montana Western (12-6, 19-10) in the opening round of the 2020 Frontier Conference Playoffs. The game tips at 6 in Dillon, and while Northern will once again be short-handed, Mouat knows his team will put up a good fight.

"It will come down to making shots," Mouat said. "The effort will be there; we'll play hard. But the percentages show, when we shoot it well, we're in every game. And when we don't we struggle."

To shoot it well, Northern will lean heavily on veteran guards Peyton Kehr and Allix Goldhahn, as well as the inside play of Sydney Hovde. However, the Skylights will also rely on their top-notch defense, which has seen Western three times.

Still, as tough as Northern is on defense, the defending national champion Bulldogs are just as good defensively, and with Savanna Bignell, Paige Holmes and Gracey Meyer all averaging 10 ppg, the Dawgs are balanced and dangerous on offense.

"They (Bulldogs) play so hard," Mouat said. "They're a very challenging team to guard, because they make shots. They shoot it really well. So we're going to have to be locked in on defense and really execute our game plan.

"We have to take good care of the ball," he added. "Because they defend really well, they're as good as anyone in the country at turning you over. So we have to take care of the ball, and shoot it much better than the last time we played them."

The Skylights did fall to Western two weeks ago in Havre, and the Dawgs were 2-1 against Northern on the season. But, that's also the beauty of the postseason - Northern has a clean slate, and nothing that transpired over the last two months matters tonight in Dillon.

"I want our kids to play loose and relaxed," Mouat said. "But I also want them to play with the mindset that we're going to win. We need to have that belief. We know what's in front of us, and we'll keep our bags packed for as long as we need, too. We just need to take care of our business."

The Skylights will try and keep their season alive tonight when they face Western at 6 in Dillon. The winner advances to Saturday night's semifinals.


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