Basketball avenges GLIAC Championship loss

Members+of+the+NMU+Women%E2%80%99s+Basketball+team+celebrate+a+field+goal+during+its+first-round+matchup+against+Ashland+University.%0A%0APhoto+courtesy+of+NMU+athletics

Members of the NMU Women’s Basketball team celebrate a field goal during its first-round matchup against Ashland University.
Photo courtesy of NMU athletics

Levi Erkkila

The Northern Michigan Women’s Basketball team finished its season this past weekend in the NCAA tournament. In the first round of the tournament, the Wildcats defeated the Ashland University Eagles (AU) 64-57 to advance into the second round. NMU faced the undefeated Drury University Panthers (DU) in the Midwest regional semifinals and fell 78-56 to end their season.

“The girls really played well in the post-season,” head coach Troy Mattson said. “I am really proud of what we were able to do over the past two or three weeks.”

NMU made their first NCAA Regional Semifinal since the 2010 season and the 23 wins are the most since the 2000-01 season when that team won 24 games.

“This season was a special one for us and not just because we made the NCAA tournament, but because we really came together,” senior guard Darby Youngstrom said.

Facing off in a rematch of the GLIAC Tournament Championship, the Wildcats held AU to 57 points, the fewest Ashland have scored this season and the fewest they’ve produced since scoring 52 points in the NCAA Division II Championship last season.

“To go into the national tournament and beat the No.-4 ranked team in the country [is a] monster highlight for our program and to show how far our program has come,” Mattson said.

The Wildcats featured three players in double figures, as Youngstrom and sophomore guard Lexi Smith both finished with 14 points and two assists. Sophomore guard Elizabeth Lutz chipped in with 10 points with sophomore guard Amber Huebner putting up nine points. Senior center Taylor Hodell gave NMU eight points along with eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

The Eagles took a 10-4 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter. A last-second three-pointer from AU sent the teams into the second frame with Ashland leading 15-9.

NMU outscored Ashland 15-4 in the second quarter to take a 24-19 lead into halftime.

The Eagles cut the NMU lead to four, 33-29 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Wildcats stormed to a 9-6 run to take a 42-35 advantage into the final frame.

NMU started the quarter on an 8-2 run and with 5:30 to play in the game Northern had a 50-37 lead. The Eagles closed the gap to four, 54-50 with a minute left to play. NMU held off a late AU comeback and recorded a 64-57 victory.

The regional semifinals would prove to be a tough task for NMU against a blemish-free Drury University Panthers, who carried into the contest a 32-0 record.

Hodell led the Wildcats with 14 points while adding four rebounds. She also finished 8-8 from the free throw line. Youngstrom notched 12 points. Junior forward Erin Honkala chipped in with eight points and led the team with six rebounds.

The game started in favor of the Panthers and with 6:22 on the clock, the NMU deficit was 10-5. Drury went on an 11-2 run to end the first quarter and took a 21-7 lead into the second frame.
The Panther dominance continued in the second quarter and with the clock winding down in the half, the DU advantage was 39-13.

The Wildcats pushed back in the second half, outscoring Drury by a slim 19-16 margin in the third quarter. The score heading into the final frame was 63-34 with the Panthers in the lead.
The DU lead was too large for NMU to mount a comeback as the no. 1 ranked Panthers crusied to defeat the Wildcats 78-56.

“After the Drury game, it was bittersweet in the locker room,” Youngstrom said. “We felt proud that we competed and that we ended together as a family.”

The 23 wins were the most for NMU in the Mattson era.

“Coach Mattson is a special coach,” Youngstrom said. “He cares so much about each and every one of us. He pushed us all season because he knows our capabilities.”

The Wildcats saw four student-athletes earn All-GLIAC honors. Youngstrom and Smith made the All-GLIAC First Team while junior center Jessica Schultz made second team All-GLIAC. Schultz and senior guard Sydney Dillinger both earned All-Defensive Team honors.