(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – For the first time in nearly 11 months, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team will take to the court at Alterowitz Gym with a pair of home games against Lewis-Clark State College this weekend to tip off the 2020-21 season.
The Yellowjackets will make their long-awaited season debut on Friday night, with a 7 p.m. tipoff against the Warriors. The teams will then face a quick turnaround with a 2 p.m. start time on Saturday afternoon. LC State, which owns a 6-3 record with nine games under its belt already, split a pair of games at Seattle Pacific University last weekend in its most recent activity.
“It is just nice to play, and I know our players are excited,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin, who is entering his 17th season in charge of the program. “Getting back into the gym and having full practices has been great for everybody’s attitude. We just want to stay in the present, and prepare for each game to the maximum. After almost 330 days between games, it’s time to let them have some fun.”
Per Great Northwest Athletic Conference mandate, all home MSUB games are closed to all spectators due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. All home games will feature a live video stream with play-by-play commentary available through the MSUB Sports YouTube channel online here. Live statistics for the games will be available online here.
The women’s basketball team last competed on March 5, 2020 at the GNAC Championships, completing its 2019-20 season one week before pandemic-related cancelations began. Friday will mark the first Yellowjacket athletic competition of any kind since MSUB’s softball team played on March 12, 2020. The remainder of the 2020 season was canceled the following day, before the fall 2020 season was later canceled and the winter 2020-21 conference season was canceled as well.
“We are all really excited because we have been practicing for so long,” said junior forward Taryn Shelley. “When we finished our season last year, I thought we were going to start back up like normal (this fall). We knew that eventually we were going to play, so we knew we had to keep working hard to keep our conditioning and strength up.”
This weekend marks the beginning of a 10-game schedule for the women’s basketball team, which will make a return trip to LC State on Feb. 12-13 in Lewiston, Idaho. The ‘Jackets will also play a home-and-home series with Rocky Mountain College at the Fortin Center on Feb. 3 and at Alterowitz Gym on Feb. 17. MSUB will cap off the modified 2020-21 season with four non-conference games against fellow GNAC school Northwest Nazarene University from Feb. 26-March 6.
The Yellowjackets’ youthful roster features three juniors who are two-year veterans in the program in Shelley, Addison Gardner, and Shannon Reny. Earning honorable mention all-conference in each of her first two seasons, Shelley will be the centerpiece of the team’s roster after recording a dozen double-doubles and averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds as a sophomore in 2019-20. “It’s very different being a leader on this team and being the oldest, and it has been very fun creating relationships with the younger girls,” said Shelley. “I just want to try to lead them in the right direction, and up to speed on our plays and everything we are doing. It has been challenging being an upperclassman but it has also been really fun.”
MSUB’s other returning starter from last year’s lineup is sophomore Shayla Montague, who averaged 6.5 points while seeing action in all 30 games as a true freshman a season ago. Fellow sophomore returners Danielle Zahn and Kali Gulick figure to bolster the team’s depth at the guard and forward positions, respectively, after each seeing the court last year as well.
Junior newcomers Skylar Patton and Cariann Kunkel will provide immediate experience coming out of the junior college ranks, with each figuring to see significant playing time. Patton is a point guard who spent her first two seasons at Gillette College, while Kunkel is a forward bringing two seasons at Wenatchee Valley Community College into the Yellowjackets’ program.
A trio of local freshmen round out the team’s roster, with each set to make their collegiate debut this spring. The 6-foot Marie Five of Crow Agency, and 5-foot-11 Dyauni Boyce of Winifred will be welcome additions to MSUB’s size under the basket, and Kortney Nelson of Scobey will bring her skillset to the corps of guards.