Wild rivalry weekend could determine ’Cats’ season

Ray Bressette

Rivalry week will be jam-packed for the women’s basketball team, starting with a road trip across the U.P. and ending at home against their arch rival Monday night.

NMU will play three games in five days, facing the Lake Superior State Lakers at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28 at Cooper Jim in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

The ’Cats head to Midland for an important match with the Northwood Timberwolves at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, then the week will wrap up with a home match against their storied rival Michigan Tech Huskies at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 1 at the Berry Events Center.re-WBball_ET

With the playoff picture sitting as is, all three games play great significance to NMU’s season.

The Wildcats are tied with Northwood for the eighth and final playoff seed in the GLIAC tournament with a 6-6 conference record.

LSSU sits 14th out of 16 teams in the conference with a 3-9 record. NMU has taken four of the last five matches against the Lakers and three straight in Sault Ste. Marie. NMU head coach Troy Mattson said while the Lakers are coming off a win over Ferris State on Saturday, Jan. 23, they know what to expect from LSSU on Thursday.

“They’re going to sit in a two-three zone all night long,” Mattson said. “We’re going to have to make shots from the perimeter, so all those things are scary to us. The biggest thing to us is we’ll have to do the right things to allow us to win games, which are taking care of the ball and rebound defensively. We haven’t been able to do those, which has been holding back our progress.”

Lakers head coach Kristen Rogers is in her second season leading LSSU. Prior to that, she spent three years as NMU’s assistant coach.

Despite LSSU’s struggles this season, Mattson said the ’Cats cannot overlook the Lakers in such a tight playoff run.

“We have to concentrate and focus totally on LSSU and make sure we give a great effort,” Mattson said. “We have to take care of LSSU and make sure we don’t do anything we’re not supposed to do. We really need to start playing better on the road and come out with a win.”

NMU is 2-6 on the road this season, but both road wins were earned this month.

While the ’Cats don’t want to look past the Lakers, Mattson also understands the importance of Saturday’s matchup with the Timberwolves.

While the teams are tied for the last playoff spot heading into the weekend, the ’Cats will have another shot after Saturday to distance themselves from the Timberwolves when they come to Marquette on Saturday, Feb. 20.

Junior guard Bre Gaspervich said each game is getting more intense for the team’s fate.

“At the end of the season, everyone wants to win bad,” Gaspervich said. “We have to pull together and stay with a team mentality.”

The long week will come full-circle Monday night when the Huskies take the bus trip down from Houghton for some mid-week basketball.

The Huskies entered the season as the favorites to win the GLIAC, but with Ashland sitting undefeated at 12-0 and three other teams competing with an identical 9-3 record with Tech, the Huskie women are tied for second place.

The rivalry between NMU and Tech has seen balance in recent seasons, as two years ago NMU took two of three games against Tech, including a playoff matchup with the GLIAC Championship game on the line during NMU’s conference championship run. Last season, the Huskies swept the ’Cats in the two-game series during a conference championship road of their own.

While Tech’s experienced roster of 11 returning players have played in the U.P. rivalry, eight of NMU’s 12 players are freshmen who have not even stepped on the court against the Huskies.

Tech’s leading scorer, junior guard Morgan Anderson, has missed the last four games for the Huskies and could miss play against NMU on Monday. Anderson is one of four Huskies averaging double digit points (13.8), along with senior forward Danielle Blake (13.4), junior guard Kelli Guy (12.4) and senior center Kylie Moxley (11.8).

Three of NMU’s four leading average scorers are freshmen in guards Chloe Tompkins and Darby Youngstrom, as well as center Taylor Hodell. Gaspervich is the ’Cats’ leading scorer, who is averaging 10.8 points per game.

Hodell said team support is the key to get through the three games this weekend.

“We need to have fun and come with intensity,” Hodell said. “We need to remind each other when we’re playing down. It’s important to stick together as a team and come out on top in each game.”