Women’s hoops tips off 2019-20 season

SEASONED BALLERS—Lexi Smith (right) and Jessica Schultz are Preseason All-GLIAC selections this season, and are looking to bring the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen

Daryl T. Jarvinen

SEASONED BALLERS—Lexi Smith (right) and Jessica Schultz are Preseason All-GLIAC selections this season, and are looking to bring the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen

Travis Nelson

The NMU Women’s Basketball team comes off of last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance looking to make it back, and advance even further this time around. Head Coach Troy Mattson begins his 15th season with the Wildcats, and talked about what his team can take from last year’s post-season appearance.

“I think it’s more for the players to take something [from it]. The last time we were in it was in 2014, and when you have new players coming into your program and going through the system, they don’t understand what they’re really playing for,” Mattson said. “We were kind of fighting that for a year or so, I knew we had the talent to make it there, but the players didn’t quite understand what we were trying to do.”

The Wildcats come into the 2019-20 campaign with most of the core from last year’s team including 2019 Preseason All-GLIAC players junior Lexi Smith and senior Jessica Schultz. Both upperclassmen give NMU its main punch on offense as well as leadership, and Mattson hopes they are players that will now take the next step. 

“Just to get that taste in our mouth and being successful in the tournament against Ashland last year, really has shown me with our girls, the leadership of our upper classmen,” Mattson said. “How they’re approaching every single day and getting themselves ready to play this weekend, has been the biggest thing that I’ve noticed.”

The Wildcats are not just a two-girl show however, as senior Erin Honkala is a break-out name that Mattson mentioned. Honkala had to go to the bench last season, Mattson said, but she has been focused thus far and is looking to have a good year. NMU has been hit with the injury bug in the offseason, as junior Elizabeth Lutz and freshman Makaylee Kuhn are both going to be impact players for NMU this year, but are out dealing with injuries, Mattson said. Kuhn is expected to be cleared this week and will only be available to play limited minutes. 

“I think we’re 12 [players] deep when we’re healthy,” Mattson said. “We feel like our depth is really good, we’d just like to get our key players back that’s all, so that they can show the leadership and trying to stay away from playing as many freshman with major minutes as possible.”

Going into the team’s first games of the season on Saturday, Nov. 9 and Sunday, Nov. 10, Mattson said that he is unsure of his starting lineup and rotation.

“We’re still dealing with injuries from last season, and we’re probably going to be a little short-handed this weekend maybe in the minutes that some people play, or if they’re even able to play,” Mattson said. “We’re just waiting to see who’s available for us this weekend, moreso than not.”

The Wildcats hit the hardwood for the first time this season at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9 against William Jewell College in the GLIAC/GLVC Challenge hosted by Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois. NMU’s second game on the weekend is at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10 against hosts Lewis University.