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In the space of seven days, the Montana State Billings men's basketball team beat a nationally ranked team, beat another of the top-tier teams in the conference, and gained its first sweep of an opponent.

All important wins for a program now hitting its stride going into the second half of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference season.

The Yellowjackets, 5-1 in their last six games, are tied for fourth place in the GNAC standings, one game out of third and two games out of second.

Barring a complete collapse down the stretch, MSUB should play in the league's postseason tournament which determines a berth in the NCAA Division II national tournament.

The win over nationally ranked Seattle Pacific on Jan. 21 was the warning shot fired around the GNAC. It was MSUB's first victory against a Top 25 team this season.

It was a big win, a significant win for a team trying to be relevant again in the highly competitive Division II West Region.

However, Jackets coach Jamie Stevens begs to differ, taking a more long-range approach.

"It was not our signature win,'' said the first-year head coach. "We've got 25 left in our season. I think we have more signature wins in our future."

The final game of the regular season is Feb. 25 against Western Washington. The GNAC tournament begins Feb. 29.

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On Dec. 29 in a victory over Saint Martin's, Preston Richards had one of his best games as a Yellowjacket. The versatile, high-energy 6-foot-3 guard/forward pulled down a game-high and career-high 15 rebounds.

Two nights later, he played just 17 minutes at Western Oregon.

Richards has not been on the court since, the victim of a stress fracture in his foot.

The MSUB coaching staff has not ruled Richards out for the rest of the season. With fingers crossed, they hope to have him back by GNAC tournament time.

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The Yellowjackets now face their most difficult, and definitely coldest, road trip of the season.

MSUB plays at Alaska Fairbanks Thursday and Saturday at Alaska Anchorage.

"We're going to a place where it's very cold, then to a place where it is cold and a very good team,'' Stevens said.

The high in Fairbanks Tuesday was a minus-15. The low, a bone-numbing minus-40.

Anchorage will be a little better. The high was a balmy 17 degrees.

*    *    *

My junior college recently discontinued its football program. And I'm kind of sad.

It's like a small piece of my history now gone forever.

While I never played for the football team, obviously, it had a major impact on my career as a journalist.

My first interview for the school newspaper was with the football coach. He was a large man with legs like gnarled oak trees. He rolled his eyes during a few questions, but we got through it.

Through working at the school newspaper, the advisor helped me get a part-time job with the local daily newspaper on the basis that  "I was polite."

The first assignment was covering a football game for the junior college. We, I mean they, won.

That evening, I began a journey that would teach me patience, perseverance and the ability to grow alligator-like skin.

Upon arriving at the office after the game, I sat down to write my masterpiece. It would be my first byline in a real newspaper. After surveying my notes, I began pounding the typewriter. For those who don't know about a typewriter, ask your parents. And you young parents, ask your parents.

Finished, I handed the pages to our grumpy Chicago White Sox beat writer.

Instead of red pencil, he used scissors. "That's got to change,'' he started. "And we need to fix this ... this can come out ... let's rewrite this paragraph.'' And it continued.

Ten minutes later, he handed the story back. All that remained was my name. I thought I was going to cry. I went back and rewrote the story.

Covering the team for two years, I quickly learned that not everybody is like mommy, some people might actually not like what you write.

During an English class, our 5-6, 200-pound nose tackle, tapped me on the shoulder.

"You need to write more about the defense,'' he said.

"Make a few more tackles and I might,'' I cracked, quickly realizing that he didn't think the answer was as funny as the rest of the class.

We won't even go into the time the sports editor sent me to the wrong Concordia College for a game.

That football team was a springboard to many other stories in many other states. And now it's gone.

Rest in peace, Harper Hawks.


High School Sports, Rodeo Reporter

Sports writer for The Billings Gazette.