‘Cats sink Lakers in U.P. rivalry, closing in on playoffs

Ray Bressette

The Wildcats made their statement that they belong in the GLIAC tournament next month on Thursday night, sinking the Lake Superior State University Lakers 73-56 to open their final home series of the year.

The ’Cats led the Lakers by as many as 30 points in the third quarter, before NMU head coach Troy Mattson pulled the starters which eventually closed the gap on the final score.

“We played great defense all night long,” Mattson said. “We tested their three-point shooters and did a good job with their inside players.

“We got a little frantic and franty when we started subbing players, but we can’t trust someone not to get hurt. We played great overall in a big win.”

A pair of freshman ’Cats led the way in a win that puts them one win away from their first playoff appearance as Wildcats, as center Taylor Hodell racked up 18 points while guard Darby Youngstrom finished with 14.

Freshman center Tess Weatherly nailed a triple for the ’Cats’ first basket, while NMU continued the stride to an 8-2 lead to open the match.

Youngstrom said the early lead set the tone for the rest of the game.

“As we skipped the ball, people were knocking down shots,” Youngstrom said. “That’s a huge momentum builder for us and it gives everyone confidence. On the defense, everyone had their assignments and stuck to them, and it turned into offense for us.”

Junior guard Bre Gaspervich, who finished the night with 13 points and has led NMU in scoring all season said her team strived through the Laker defense.

“We stressed out our cutters throughout the game,” Gaspervich. “We had a lot of openings in our zones. Everyone’s shots were dead on and we were dumping down in the posts.”

NMU got some help for their GLIAC playoff hopes Thursday night, with Michigan Tech defeating Northwood 69-60 and Walsh beating Findlay 78-53.

With Thursday’s results, NMU sits seventh in the conference at 12-8, one game ahead of Northwood (11-9) and two games ahead of Findlay (10-10). Two games remain in the regular season for NMU, with NMU hosting Northwood Saturday at 11 a.m.

A Wildcat win would clinch the young team a spot in the GLIAC tournament.

The ’Cats will see the return of their leading scorers, guard Chloe Tompkins, who has missed two-straight games due to injury. Tompkins is averaging eight points per game, and was second in scoring on her team before going down to injury.

Mattson said Tompkins’ and her young teammates are emerging toward a winning team at the conclusion of the core’s first season together.

“We’ve come a long way,” Mattson said. “One of the biggest things with so many young players is our coaching communication to them. We say something and they understand it and bring it to the court. They understand what we want and what it will take to be successful on offense.
Our defense has been good all year, and we’ve rebounded fairly well. It’s been a lot of offense, and we understand our roles better on offense.”