Panthers end Wildcat tournament run

John Becker

The postseason has come to an end for the NMU women’s basketball team, but their accomplishments mark the best team to date under the direction of head coach Troy Mattson.

The Wildcats (22-10 overall, 16-6 GLIAC) ousted the No. 2 seed University of Indianapolis Greyhounds with a 52-51 victory in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 12. The Greyhound All-American finalists Jessica Canary and Samantha Meissel were held to 13 and 7 points, respectively. Senior Wildcat guard Christa Erickson went 5-for-9 from the court with four 3-pointers and led with 16 points, followed by senior center Mariah Dunham with 12. Mattson said the defense was incredible and greatly contributed to the win.

“We stopped their best player, who averages 20 points a game, to seven points, and executed well enough on the offensive end for the victory,” he said.The NMU Wildcats huddle up for a cheer before one of their regular season games in the Berry Events Center this season. // Justin Key / NW

The ’Cats were defeated, 51-59, by the Drury Panthers on Sunday, March 14. Dunham led with 24 points and six rebounds.

Junior guard Kellie Rietveld earned eight points, followed by senior center Angie Leckson with seven. Leckson also had two blocks and three steals. Mattson said the ’Cats missed a couple layups and free throws late in the game that cost them.

“It was a great game; we played extremely hard. Unfortunately, it came down to a couple of shots that didn’t go our way, and a couple that went theirs,” he said.

Mattson said he is proud of how far the team went this season and that it really shows the progression of the program.

“We went from a team that was a last place team two years ago to a national contender this year,” he said.

As a team, the Wildcats placed second in the GLIAC during the regular season and saw their first NCAA game since 2002.

Mattson’s five-year total improves to 60-78. The 2009-10 record of 22-10 is an improvement on the 2008-09 record of 14-14.

The 2007-08 ’Cats went 9-17.

Mattson also said he believes the team can continue to improve, even though the bar is set higher than ever.

The Wildcats will be losing seniors Mariah Dunham, Holly Cole, Angie Leckson and Jaclyn Davey. Christa Erickson may be receiving one more year of NCAA eligibility pending an appeal for a medical redshirt for a previous injury. Mattson said Dunham was an excellent leader, leading with a season-high 396 points and 14.1 points per game. Erickson was third in points with 315.

The seniors contributed 1,124 of the team’s 2,117 total points. Mattson said Dunham, Cole and Leckson will be sorely missed.

“They were good teammates and understood that putting winning in the program ahead of themselves was the most important thing, and they all did that,” he said.

Mattson said his goal now is to recruit more players, because while there is a good core group of returning players, the new season is always a challenge.

“We just have to make sure we handle ourselves right in the offseason, both recruiting-wise and for our returning players to get better,” Mattson said.

Dunham said Mattson understands the game well and knows what it takes to compete every night, against any team.

“Out of any coach I’ve played for, I feel that he is one of the best. I respect him tremendously for the amount of work and dedication he puts into this program, and it will only pay off for the team,” she said.

Dunham also said she felt as though the team did what they were asked and that she has no regrets.

“We worked hard each and every day in practice, games and in the classroom,” she said. “I’m very happy with my teammates because everyone had to overcome something this season, and it was through togetherness that we did those things.”