’Cats win Basketball championship

Ray Bressette

Women’s basketball team advances to NCAA tournament

The NMU women’s basketball team is heading to the Division II NCAA tournament after winning the GLIAC Championship last weekend over Malone University at the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit.

The Wildcats defeated the Michigan Tech Huskies, 59-54, on Saturday, March 8 to advance to the championship game.  A layup from freshman guard Bre Gaspervich gave the ’Cats the lead with one minute remaining in the game, and a pair of free-throws from junior guard Alyssa Colla sealed the win. Senior forward Annie Rubendunst put up 19 points.

NMU defeated the Malone Pioneers, 53-49, on Sunday, March 9 to sweep the tournament and win their 10th straight game. Junior guard Lauren Gruber put up a double-double, leading the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Gruber added three assists to earn the GLIAC tournament MVP award.

Gruber said the tournament victory was a team effort.

“It’s just a testament to how far we’ve come and how we’ve been playing lately,” Gruber said. “Everyone was able to come together this weekend and it was a really good example of how we want to play and how we’re going to continue to play.”

The championship was the program’s first since 2000 and eighth in its history. It was the first, however, under head coach Troy Mattson.

Mattson said the team is ready to move forward to the NCAA tournament.

“It feels good to get this championship under our belt,” Mattson said. “This is a very special group of ladies, and they’ve been able to come through and bring some hardware home. Now we’re going to be greedy and look for bigger and better things by winning a regional championship. You never know when you’re going to get that opportunity again, so we’re really pushing for it.”

The Wildcats will enter the tournament as the No. 4-seed in the Midwest Regional with a 22-7 record.

The ’Cats will play No. 5-seed, Quincy, at 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 14 at Drury University in Springfield, Mo. The Hawks, from Quincy, Ill., enter the tournament from the Great Lakes Valley Conference, with a 22-6 record.

The Hawks are averaging 77.3 points per game, while their opponents are averaging 66.6 points. Senior guard Lucy Cramsey is leading Quincy, averaging 13.6 points a game.

A win over Quincy would advance NMU to the second round of the regional tournament on Saturday, March 15, where they would play the winner of No. 1 seed Drury and No. 8 seed Truman State at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 16.

Rubendunst said the team will go up against talented teams in regionals.

“I’d like to say that our region is probably the best in the tournament,” Rubendunst said. “We have some quality teams ahead of us in this region. It’s really going to be a tough tournament.”

The Wildcats have only faced two other teams in the Midwest region this season, including Lewis University who they beat 75-66 on Sunday, Nov. 24. The Wayne State Warriors also earned a tournament berth from the GLIAC, who the Wildcats split the season series with, falling to the Warriors 75-72 on Saturday, January 25 in Detroit, and defeating them 84-69 on Saturday, February 15 at home.

Mattson said it will be a challenge facing new opponents.

“We’re not very familiar with many teams in this region, but we’re not going to change our game plan,” Mattson said. “We’re going to have to continue to stand tall and defend, rebound the ball and try to execute on offense to see where our game matches up against theirs.”

Friday will be NMU’s first appearance in the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament since 2010, when the ’Cats fell to Drury University 59-51 in the region semi-finals at the campus of Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich.

Mattson said his team has high hopes heading into the tournament this weekend.

“With the way we’re playing right now, our potential is to win this region,” Mattson said. “We’re going into the tournament with the mindset that we’re as good as anyone in the region, and if we continue playing like this, we’ll have just as a good a shot of winning it as anyone.”