Clawing into contention


ALL ABOARD—Senior forward Erin Honkala (pictured above) called a team meeting after NMU suffered a 66-60 loss to Ferris State. The rest of the team is on board with her message according to Mattson. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics.

Travis Nelson

On a night where the NMU Women’s Basketball team lost 66-60 in a home game against Ferris State University (FSU), the result was on the backburner. A message was echoed to the entire Wildcats team inside of the Berry Events Center on Thursday, Jan. 16. That voice belonged to none other than senior forward Erin Honkala, who called a team meeting.

“She stepped up on Thursday night after the game and said we weren’t getting the job done,” Head Coach Troy Mattson said. “She got everybody on board, and the girls were all in.”

After taking another first half lead, the Wildcats were outscored 44-30 in the second half by the Bulldogs. In a night where senior forward Jessica Schultz’s 1,000 career point should’ve been celebrated, it was another game that the ‘Cats let slip away. Schultz paced NMU with 19 points and six rebounds, with freshman guard Makaylee Kuhn and junior guard Amber Huebner chipping in with 10 points each. Honkala had a rough night offensively, where she shot 1-7 from the floor for two points and eight rebounds. However, she had a different impact on that night with her leadership, and that was the biggest takeaway from the game.

“It [leadership] makes a big difference, especially when you’re going to go on the road for four games,” Mattson said. “You need to be one group, and if you’re not, and if people are afraid, going off in their own direction and not stepping up and being leaders, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.”

The Wildcats were in need of a win to gain some momentum again, and it received a gift when the Lake Superior State University (LSSU) Lakers came into town on Saturday, Jan. 18. LSSU entered the game on a four-game losing streak, and NMU made sure it reached five games. Northern took a 26-14 lead into halftime, a similar position it had been in during the two previous games, but both ended in defeat. This time they finished strong, outscoring LSSU 46-25 in the second half to cruise to a 72-39 win. It appeared that the team meeting had paid off, as it was the highest scoring output thus far by the Wildcats this season. Sophomore forward Emily Mueller led the team with 15 points off the bench, with Schultz and Honkala each contributing with 11 points.

After watching film of the game, Mattson told his team this is what he imagined their offense would look like every night.

“I thought the ball really moved well during the game,” Mattson said. “When you’re playing better teams and you got new people out there and freshman out there, sometimes the ball doesn’t get to where it needs to get as quickly as you’d like it to, but I thought the ball moved extremely well.”

As Mattson alluded to, the Wildcats are about to begin a four-game road trip this weekend, which features games against Davenport University (DU) on Thursday, Jan. 23, and the Women’s Basketball Coaching Association’s (WBCA) No. 3 ranked Grand Valley State University (GVSU) on Saturday, Jan. 25.

Mattson said that DU hasn’t had a great start so far (5-12, 0-9 GLIAC), but they can trip up teams who have off-shooting nights.

“They haven’t won a game in the league, and they’re playing a couple of freshman, but they still have a very good player in Falkenberg (Jenna),” Mattson said. “She’s a big young lady (6’4”), and takes up a lot of space inside and is tough to score around. They’re going to sit in a 2-3 match-up zone all night long, and if you don’t make shots, you’ll get yourself in trouble.”

The Wildcats’ leadership has not let the team give up despite its season struggles. With injuries and tough defeats, such team meetings make an already close team that much more connected. NMU looks to win its second straight game when they face-off with DU, tip-off is at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the DU Student Center in Grand Rapids.