The Wildcat lacrosse club team opened the 2008 season on Saturday, hosting the annual tournament at the Superior Dome.
The ‘Cats ran away with a 11-3 victory over North Dakota State University and fell 11-7 to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“As far as the second game goes, it was a roller-coaster ride of emotion. We were down by four goals and did a great job of making some adjustments to tie the game,” said coach Davis Johnson. “We had the momentum, but could not pull the trigger. The guys played like warriors. I was proud of their performance, but that loss was a heartbreaker.”
In the tournament, Todd Zimmerman had four goals, while Ryan Cherry, Conner Fox and Kyle Kelly-Pepich all had three. Mike Johnson netted a pair and Edward Sindles, Kevin Whalen and Brain Buchek each scored once.
In net, goalie Kevin Sande stopped 45 shots for the ‘Cats.
This season’s team currently has 15 freshmen on the 35-man roster. Also new this year are coaches Johnson and Michael Ambrozy.
After playing for NMU for four seasons, Johnson and Ambrozy were ineligible to play for the club again this year. In order to stay involved, they decided to help from the sideline.
“We could have taken the chance and played and jeopardized the team but we didn’t want to do that,” Johnson said. “I felt in order for the team to be at the next step, this is what I had to do.”
The two admit that making the transition from player to coach was difficult but necessary.
“I think by me being able to play with some of them they see that and they say, ‘Okay he can play lacrosse. Maybe I’ll give him a chance. Maybe I’ll listen to him and see what he has to say,'” Ambrozy said.
Last season, the team was 6-2 in the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association (CCLA), which is one of nine conferences within the 98-team Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA).
NMU reached 23rd in the MCLA rankings last year and was also honored as the Riddell MCLA Team of the Week. Despite that success, though, the ‘Cats are looking to improve upon last year.
“Our goal is to go to nationals.” Johnson said. “We don’t see any reason, with all the talent and potential we have, not to make a trip to nationals.”
At the national tournament the top two Division-II teams out of the CCLA compete against the other top two teams from each of the nine conferences in the MCLA.
Johnson and Ambrozy have the idea of making nationals as a team goal and they said discipline should play a big factor in that goal.
“I would like to progress personally and I would like to see the team progress,” Sande said. “We got to tighten up screws, but I want the team to go to nationals.”
Since the start of the NMU program six years ago, this is the first time the team has had actual coaches who bring structure and conditioning to practice instead of just players who take part in team activities while trying to lead.
“Our coaches have given us organization and discipline,” said Kyle Kelly-Pepich, senior attacker. “It helps because you have someone with experience on the sidelines watching our games and letting us know what we are doing well and what we need to work on.”
After going 1-1 over the weekend, the Cats may still have some adjustments to make early on in the season.
“Any type of loss must be a learning experience. We will learn from our mistakes and still maintain our ambition in order to reach our goal.” Johnson said. “We have a young and very talented team. We just need time to tweak our game to reach our full-potential.”
The team’s next challenge will come on Feb. 23 at Saginaw Valley State University when they face Hope College.
Other scores from the tournament were U-W Eau Claire beating Ferris State University 9-8. Later in the day, North Dakota State University beat Ferris State 19-7.
Ferris is one of the two teams that beat Northern last season. Calvin College is the other.
NMU and Ferris will meet again on the last game of the season.
NMU meets up with Calvin on the road, April 5 in Grand Rapids, Mich.