Wildcats licking wounds after weekend split


CLOSER THAN EVER—Injuries to the Wildcats’ backcourt have derailed this team, but the more and more girls who have to play, the closer they are getting to each other as teammates. NMU is scratching and clawing to stay alive in the GLIAC North Division Race and has a chance to get even closer to first place, with a two games this weekend against Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), and Northwood University (NU). Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics.

Travis Nelson

Despite health issues, NMU Women’s Basketball split the weekend’s road games with a 52-42 victory over Davenport University (DU) on Thursday, Jan. 23, and a 58-41 loss to No. 3 Grand Valley State University (GVSU) on Saturday, Jan. 25. 

“We’re trying to survive injuries, let’s put it that way,” NMU Women’s Basketball Head Coach Troy Mattson said. “We’re pretty depleted right now.”

DU was winless in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) with an 0-9 record, but the Panthers led NMU for most of the first three quarters. Playing good basketball paid off for DU, as it upset Michigan Tech on Saturday, Jan. 25 for its first conference win of the season just two days later. But this game was about the Wildcats’ impressive fourth quarter, outscoring DU 21-8 to win the game by double digits. 

“It was a struggle, it was a battle all night long,” Mattson said. “We were behind most of the night, and fortunately for us, we played well and got enough seperation to pull away.”

The Panthers average 71 points per game on the season, and were held to only 42 points on its home court by a tough Northern Michigan defense. The Wildcats outrebounded DU by a big margin of 48-33, and the dynamic duo of senior forwards Jessica Schultz and Erin Honkala combined for 25 of them. Both players tied for the team lead with 18 points, and combined for 36 of the Wildcats’ 52 points.

“I think Erin [Honkala] and Jessica [Schultz] are just playing like seniors are supposed to play,” Mattson said. “They’ve been complete studs out there in every single game since Christmas on down. [I’m] really, really proud of them.”

The second game of the weekend took the Wildcats to Allendale, Michigan to face off against No. 3 GVSU. In a game where everything needed to go right for the ‘Cats to pull off a major upset, things went completely opposite. 

Junior guard Amber Huebner came down with the flu before the game, but was dressed and only played 18 minutes. Freshman Makaylee Kuhn, on the other hand, started the game but was injured in the first quarter and remained out for the game. 

NMU might’ve lost a few key players, but didn’t lose any heart, and were tied with the Lakers 11-11 at the end of the first quarter. The ‘Cats outscored GVSU 17-16 in the third quarter, but the second and fourth quarters cost them. 

The Lakers played much better in the second, outscoring NMU 16-4 to take a 27-15 halftime lead. After the Wildcats found third quarter success as mentioned above, the Lakers controlled the fourth quarter with a 15-9 scoring margin to win the game 58-41. Honkala led the team in scoring with 11 points, and Schultz wasn’t far behind with 10 points.

 “Our guard situation is in major chaos, but I tell you what, these girls fought all night long,” Mattson said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Huebner couldn’t practice Monday for the ‘Cats, and Kuhn isn’t expected to play this weekend with her injury. However, NMU is back on the road to take on Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) on Thursday, Jan. 30, and Northwood University (NU) on Saturday, Feb. 1. The Wildcats defeated SVSU in a close match-up 56-53 earlier in the season on Saturday, Dec. 7 in Marquette. Both teams have changed since then, and not in the way that the ‘Cats hoped. 

“It’s just not us [due to injury], and Saginaw also lost two major players [who were injured],” Mattson said. “They’re banged up and they’re beat up too, we need to go down there and play well.”

It has a been a rollercoaster ride of a season for the 9-10 Wildcats, but through all of the bumps and bruises this team has, the GLIAC North Division is still up for grabs. Mattson said that if the ‘Cats can win these two games, then they will either be one game back or tied with UW-Parkside for first place.

“If Jessica and Erin can stay healthy, and we can get our guards out on the court, we’ll have chances to win every single night because defensively we’ve been very tough,” Mattson said. “We’re going to be right in the mix, I’m just trying to keep all of the bandages on us here to make sure that we’re able to put people out there that can help us on the court.”

NMU and SVSU will do battle on Thursday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. in University Center, Michigan.

“This weekend’s really huge for us, can we put ourselves in a position to stay interested in trying to win the North [Division]?” Mattson said. “We have an opportunity, these are two teams that are probably in the same boat as us, and we need to be able to be productive on the road.”