Laxers showing tough grit

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Junior midfielder Graison Ringlever leaves Lindenwood Lion players in the dust in pursuit of the attack.
Photo courtesy of NMU athletics

Alex Skinner

In a continuing season of close matchups for the Northern Michigan University Women’s Lacrosse team, the Wildcats packed their bags for a spring break road trip, its first of the season, after dropping a highly competitive home matchup against the No. 4 ranked Lindenwood Lions. The ’Cats began their road schedule at the Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) Cardinals in West Virginia before traveling to face the Lake Erie College (LEC) Storm for a matchup the very next day.

The Wildcats played tough against the Cardinals but were unable to secure a victory and lost by a slim 18-15 margin. Against LEC, the Wildcats weren’t able to close out the game after taking the Storm into overtime, eventually falling in that contest 18-17.

Despite the outcomes over the break, head coach Emilia Ward stated the positive reflections the team exemplified after the grueling stretch.

“We’re 1-3, but definitely a very different start to the season than we had last year,” Ward said. “This spring break trip was going to be a huge task, three games in five days with 12 hours on a bus between games. We started it out playing the No. 4 team in the nation [Lindenwood] here at home and battled really hard. It was 7-4 at halftime, which last year they were up by 15 on us at halftime. Second half we started strong and then they went on a run, played like the No. 4 team in the nation, which for us as a coaching staff forced them into adjustments. The girls really executed the game plan early in the game, forcing them to play a full 60 minutes against us which was a really big accomplishment.”

In that game against Lindenwood, NMU fought the Lion’s tooth and nail throughout the first half by responding with a goal after nearly every opposition tally. Although the Wildcats never led, they would fight to tie the game, first at 1-1, then at 3-3 before the Lions began to see separation midway through the first half after pulling ahead 6-4. The Lions would strike one more time before the final whistle, scoring with 21 seconds remaining in the first half to lead 7-4.

Freshman midfielder Jessica Daniels helped to keep the ’Cats close by scoring three first half goals and adding another in the second half for four in the game.

The four first half goals by NMU was the most Lindenwood had given up in an entire game this season, as their opponents had only scored nine total goals in four previous matchups leading into the contest.

The second half was a different story for the Wildcats as Lindenwood finally found its stride and took over the game, eventually dominating the rest of the match and cruising to a 17-7 victory over NMU.

After embarking on a 12-hour long bus ride to face a WJU team with an 0-2 record, the Wildcats had a gameplan to start strong to keep the home team on their heels in the match, a task they were unable to accomplish.

“The first 15 minutes were a struggle, we just didn’t execute very well,” Ward said. “They got comfortable, their top three players were comfortable for a lot of the game.”

It was a comeback setting for the Wildcats once again after finding themselves down 2-0 to start the game. A goal by junior midfielder Graison Ringlever cut the deficit down to one, but two straight goals from WJU brought that lead right back up to a 4-1 tally. The Wildcats trailed 6-4 at halftime with each of those four goals coming from different players, with sophomores Ellie Bahr and Bianca Kinder and freshman Aleya Speas adding their names onto the scoresheet.

Things looked bleak for the ’Cats midway through the second half after trailing 16-9, however, sophomore attack/midfielder Tess Kostelec scored twice to start a furious NMU rally.

Daniels added a tally and then freshman attack/midfielder Emily Renfrew scored and then Ringlever added another and just like that, with 1:39 remaining, NMU trailed by just a single goal at 16-15.

Ward substituted offense for defense to try and capture the elusive game-tying goal but the plan backfired as WJU scored two goals in the final minute to conclude the game with an 18-15 score.

With Lake Erie College as the final obstacle of the road trip, the Wildcats boarded the bus once again and set off for northeastern Ohio, determined to earn points after a long road trip.

Playing two games in back-to-back days was a feat Ward acknowledged would be difficult to overcome for her young team.

“They had a full week to prepare for us, we had basically less than 24 hours to prep for them with a senior laden lineup,” Ward said. “We battled super hard and at the end of the game, last 15 minutes, we had eight freshmen, three sophomore and a junior on the field. Kids who had not been in that scenario before.”

The Wildcats experienced their first lead of the week after Ringlever scored the first goal of the game. A quick answer of three goals by the Storm would take that lead away from NMU early in the game.

Daniels, Speas and Renfrew found the back of the net for NMU and the game would be tied yet again just four minutes into the game. The Storm were able to draw some distance in the later stages of the half after two separate runs of three goals would bring the score to 10-7 at halftime with LEC leading.

Daniels helped lead the charge for the Wildcats in the second half as the ’Cats climbed up to a 13-11 with 10 minutes remaining in the game. Much like the first half, the score bounced between lead changes and ties as NMU lead 17-15 with just one minute remaining. In a stunning collapse in remaining time, the Wildcats conceded two late goals before the final whistle as the score flashed 17-17 and an overtime session loomed in the distance.

In heartbreaking fashion for the Wildcats, the Storm scored the final goal of the game when sophomore Riley Heffron scored to put the game away.

Renfrew led NMU scorers in the game with seven points, scoring four goals and dishing three assists. Daniels scored five times as Speas, Ringlever and Bahr each added two.

The ’Cats head back to action this Friday, March 15, as they host the Davenport University (DU) Panthers in its GLIAC season debut before hosting the No. 20 ranked Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Lakers on Sunday, March 17.

NMU holds an overall record of 1-1 against DU and is yet to win against GVSU, with the Lakers holding a 3-0 series record.

At this point in the season, Ward has began to get a grasp of how the team reacts under pressure and looks to build on its momentum heading into conference action.

“We’re really excited on where our group’s going,” Ward said. “We’ve got some freshmen playing at an extremely high level right now, which is great for not only the future of this program, but where we want to go this season.”