BILLINGS — A year ago, Montana Western carried the Frontier Conference banner all the way to the semifinals of the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship.
It was the second year in a row a team from the Frontier reached the Final Four.
The Bulldogs are back, along with Carroll College, Rocky Mountain College and the University of Providence. Lewis-Clark State is back after a one-year absence. The Warriors reached the title game in 2017.
Can one of those five return to the Final Four or play for a national championship?
It will remain to be seen if they do so.
The NAIA National Tournament is back at Rimrock Auto Arena for a third straight year after drawing more than 17,000 fans in 2018.
Bethel (Tenn.) and Lindsey Wilson (Kentucky) will begin the 32-team tournament with an 8:30 a.m. game on Wednesday. There will be 31 games in six days.
Top-ranked Freed-Hardeman returns to defend its national title.
There are eight games scheduled for both Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The quarterfinals are Saturday and the semifinals on Monday.
The national championship will be decided on Tuesday, March 19.
To win a national title a team will have to win five games. It is a title well earned.
Here is a brief look at games involving Frontier Conference teams:
Wednesday, 1:45 p.m.
William Penn (30-2) vs. Lewis-Clark State (20-11)
The No. 22 ranked Warriors of the Frontier Conference were the national runners-up in 2017. After a one-year absence, Lewis-Clark State returns as an at-large selection. It is the program’s 21st appearance in the national tournament. The Warriors are led by Jossilyn Blackman who averages 12.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. Hailey Turner is adding 10.1 points a game while Abbie Johnson has 53 steals.
The No. 11 ranked Statesmen come to Billings riding a 13-game win streak after sweeping the Heart of America Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles. The centerpiece is post Vashti Nwagbaraocha, who is averaging 18.3 and 8.9 rebounds a game. Kate Ylitalo has dropped 95 3-pointers en route to 16.5 points game.
Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Montana Western (25-4) vs. Georgetown (Ky.) (21-10)
The Bulldogs are one of the top four seeds in the tournament. Western’s catalyst is senior guard Brianna King. The two-time Frontier Conference player of the year is averaging 22.2 points a game with 78 3-pointers. She also has 80 steals and 1,339 career points in just two seasons in Dillon. She dazzled the tournament crowd last year with a 40-point game in a win over Menlo, including 18 of 18 from the free throw line. Steady Britt Cooper is adding 8.9 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Cooper has 1,029 career points for UMW. The Bulldogs lost to eventual national champion Freed-Hardeman 61-50 in the 2018 semifinals.
Georgetown, of the Mid-South Conference, is making its first trip to nationals since 2014 and 11th time in program history. Hailey Ison is averaging 10.9 points a game while Madison Darnell adds 10.6. She also has 58 steals. Alexis Stapleton has made 55 3-pointers.
Thursday, 2:15 p.m.
Providence (18-13) vs. Campbellsville (Ky.) (31-2)
Respect of the Frontier Conference and the program helped the Argos get an at-large bid. Providence upset defending national champion Oklahoma City, 81-76, to start last year’s tournament. Guard Emilee Maldonado is averaging 15.9 points a game for the Argos with 159 assists. Parker Esary is adding 13.5 points and a team-high 9.9 rebounds.
Winners of 19 straight, Campbellsville is making its 27th trip to the national tournament. The No. 3-ranked Mid-South tournament champions feature five players averaging in double figures, led by Madison Faulkner’s 13.2 points a game. She is also averaging 6.1 rebounds. Caitlin Hall has dished out 228 assists, averaging a nation-leading 6.94 a game. Campbellsville has yet to lose a game in 2019.
Thursday, 6:15 p.m.
Rocky Mountain (21-12) vs. Shawnee State (Ohio) (24-9)
Shawnee State loves to shoot the 3-pointer. Rocky Mountain College ranks among the best defending beyond the arc.
Shawnee State, also the Bears, rank No. 7 nationally with 266 3-pointers made this season. By comparison, Frontier Conference leader Montana Western has made 253.
The Bears also rank No. 4 in the nation for total points and fifth for scoring per game (80.8). On the other side of the court, Rocky ranks eighth for scoring defense allowing just 53 points a game.
The Bears from Ohio feature four players averaging in double figures, led by Ashton Lovely’s 14 points a game. Bailey Cummins is adding 12.6, Hannah Miller 11.8 and Shania Miller 10.1
Miller has a team-high 60 3-pointers while Lovely has 53. Cummins has made 41 and Miller 37.
Rocky counters with a defense that ranks No. 7 nationally for both field goal and 3-point field goal defense.
Alecia Chamberlin is averaging 11.9 points a game for the Battlin’ Bears while Markaela Francis is adding 11 points and 5.5 rebounds. Justyn Juhl is averaging 10.4 points with a team-high 44 3-pointers.
Freshman guard Kloie Thatcher has dished out 128 assists while averaging 8.4 points.
Thursday, 8 p.m.
Carroll (25-7) vs. Pikeville (Ky.) (20-11)
The two-time Frontier Conference champions will be looking to make a deeper push in the national tournament. The No. 7 ranked Saints are led by Hannah Dean’s 15.2 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. The senior center from Gardiner has 1,359 career points and 831 career rebounds. Dani Wagner is adding 10.1 points a game, including 51 3-pointers. A year ago, the Saints defeat William Penn and lost to Vanguard in the second round.
Pikeville, an at-large selection, returns to the national tournament after a one-year absence. Mary Englert is averaging 12.9 points a game for the No. 25 ranked Tigers while Brianna Burbridge is adding 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds.