One year removed from their 2014 GLIAC championship, the NMU women’s basketball team fell short in their quest to earn back-to-back titles last week. The Wildcats’ season ended in a 74-52 loss to the Grand Valley State University Lakers in the opening round of the GLIAC tournament Thursday, March 4 in Allendale Mich.
For six Wildcat seniors, the loss was the last match they will ever suit up for in an NMU jersey. Guards Alyssa Colla, Lauren Gruber and Sarah Miller, forwards Brooke Coenen and Abbey DeBruin and center Courtney Lemon have led the ’Cats to four-straight GLIAC tournament appearances, one NCAA tournament appearance and a GLIAC title in their careers at NMU.
NMU head coach Troy Mattson said these seniors have revamped the NMU basketball program.
“Over the years, these players established this team as not only one of the best teams in the conference but also within the region,” Mattson said. “These ladies beat a lot of the top 20 teams in the nation over the years, and we always felt we were in every game we played. We’re not a national power as of yet, but I think we have a legacy of being one of the best teams in the midwest, and we’ve certainly competed nationally against some of the best talent in the country.”
The 2014-15 season ended with a 17-10 record overall, 15-7 in conference play earning them the fifth seed in the GLIAC tournament. The Wildcats finished one game behind fourth place Grand Valley, who went on to lose to Michigan Tech in the tournament semifinals after knocking the Wildcats out of the tournament.
In the season-ending loss to the Lakers, Colla reached double digit scoring figures for the 25th game out of 27 games played this season, dropping 21 points.
Gruber scored nine points in her final game as a Wildcat, while sophomore guard Bre Gaspervich notched seven points.
With 9:07 remaining in the first half of their loss to Grand Valley, the Wildcats trailed the Lakers 20-12 when DeBruin, the game’s leading scorer at the time, exited the game with a right knee injury and did not return.
The Lakers then went on an 18-9 run over the next eight minutes, stretching their lead to 17 points and did not trail the remainder of the game.
“It was really disappointing to end the season the way it did after making it pretty far last year,” DeBruin said. “We have a lot of talented players in this program, especially seniors who were riding their last chance, so it was really disappointing that we weren’t able to keep it going.”
DeBruin was not the only injured senior who was limited in playing time down the season’s stretch; Miller tore her Achilles in a home match against Hillsdale College Saturday, Feb. 14, ending her senior season. Coenen has been battling with a knee cartilage injury, which forced her to miss the second half of the past season, while Lemon played the final games of the season on two sprained ankles.
Colla and Gruber both earned the honors of being named to All-GLIAC and All-Defensive team for their performances during the 2014-15 season.
Colla was the ’Cats leading scorer for a third straight season and the GLIAC’s second leading scorer, averaging 18.2 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game. Colla racked up 491 points her senior season, and scored 20 or more points in 14 games, with a career-high 33 points scored in a 69-64 win over LSSU Jan. 29.
Colla is the third highest scorer in NMU women’s basketball history with 1,567 career points.
“Colla came in highly touted, and was basically everything you would want in a basketball player the last four years,” Mattson said. “She started from her very first game, and there wasn’t a game she didn’t start at NMU. She’s had an absolutely incredible career here. She’s one of the best players to ever play at NMU and in the GLIAC, and regionally she’s going to get her accolades.”
On the season, Gruber was the ’Cats second leading point scorer averaging 13.2 points per game and led NMU in rebounds averaging 5.6 per game. Gruber was ranked 24th nationally shooting 87.9 percent.
Gruber is not far behind Colla in Wildcat scoring history, ranking 21st in most career points scored with 1,084.
In the 2014 GLIAC tournament, Gruber was named tournament MVP, recording a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds in the championship win over the Malone University Pioneers.
“Gruber didn’t come in as touted as Colla,” Mattson said. “But she perseveres with hard work, toughness, leadership, commitment to getting better every single day and never stops. Her and [Colla] became like sisters, they’ve become very close and both have had incredible careers despite the different paths they took coming here.”
DeBruin finished her career with 751 points and 514 total rebounds. Coenen recorded 264 points, and Miller scored 164 points. Lemon racked up 563 points and grabbed 344 rebounds.
DeBruin said she and her senior teammates have reached a lot of accomplishments they can hang their heads high on.
“There’s a lot to remember over the past four years,” DeBruin said. “I think everyone’s going to remember making the NCAA tournament our junior year the most. It was an awesome experience for the whole team and it’s something we can always be proud of.”
Looking ahead, next season the Wildcats will return their third leading scorer from the 2014-15 season in Gaspervich, who averaged 8.8 points per game.
Gaspervich said the ’Cats expect to be underestimated heading into next season.
“I think we’re going to be the underdogs of the conference heading into next year,” Gaspervich said. “Everyone’s going to see us as a brand new team. I’m excited to see how we all work together and pull through, and hopefully we can surprise a lot of people.”
The Wildcats had four freshmen who redshirted the 2014-15 season in guards Chloe Tompkins, Darby Youngstrom, Tess Weatherly and Riley Budde who will suit up for the ’Cats next season. Junior guard Anna Liewen will return to the lineup for the ’Cats, after missing 15 months due to a knee-injury sustained in December 2014. In her freshman season, Liewen averaged 5.4 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game, earning her a starting spot in the six games she played in the following season in 2013-14 when she averaged 9.17 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game.
The ’Cats will also return four seniors next season in guard Katie Husband and forwards Nea Makela, Alyson Matkovich and Kendall Martenet, as well as sophomore Ashley Colla.
“These players are going to need to learn a lot quickly,” Mattson said. “We’ll probably have at least eight new faces that are going to have opportunity to play. They’re going to have to show leadership at an early age, very similarly to this past group, and they’re going to need to continue with the tradition that was set forth in front of them these past four years.”