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Wildcats fail to live up to hype

November 14, 2011
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

Expectations were high around 1401 Presque Isle Ave. this year for the Northern Michigan University football, volleyball and soccer programs.

The volleyball and soccer teams were expected to return to the NCAA tournament while the Wildcat football team was supposed to make a run at joining them in the postseason.

But here we sit on Nov. 14 and all three teams are done.

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No GLIAC Championships.

No NCAA tournament berths.

Football couldn't even capture the Miner's Cup from Michigan Tech.

To say this fall was a disappointment would be an understatement when it comes to Northern Michigan University athletics.

And that's a good thing. The bar should be set high in Marquette.

The NMU soccer team and head coach Matt Granstrand got caught up in a GLIAC women's soccer league that featured a lot of parody, though Grand Valley State again ran away with the show.

Losses to sub-.500 teams in Saginaw Valley State, Findlay and Northwood torpedoed the Wildcats NCAA chances with a loss to Tiffin at home in the first round of the GLIAC tournament being the dagger.

Like the soccer team, the NMU volleyball team saw its season end with a first-round GLIAC tournament exit. Dominic Yoder's team got off to a slow start - losing four of its first five matches - but recovered by winning 11 of 13 matches. That effort was dashed, however, during a five match losing streak in late October.

Bernie Anderson's football team seemed to show the most promise early on this fall with three-straight victories.

Then bad luck struck Anderson's squad for a second year in a row and the Wildcats lost seven of their last eight games.

The Wildcats lost starting All-GLIAC linebacker Eddie Knoblock to a knee injury in Week 2 and the defense went from capable to being a sieve.

In 2010, the NMU offense lost quarterback Carter Kopach to a leg injury and in essence, the defense lost it's quarterback in Knoblock.

In his absence, Knoblock showed why he was declared the team's most valuable player as a junior. The defense was just never the same without his leadership.

The Wildcat football team may not have had the recent history of success of the volleyball and soccer programs or as many key pieces returning, however, it's demise is the most disappointing this fall because of the hunger to finally succeed.

Back from injury, Kopach was expected to lead NMU to greatness, but instead he led the GLIAC in interceptions with 18 - many of which were completely his fault. He threw only 15 touchdowns passes while rushing for six.

With a young offensive line that took some time to gel and a young receiving corp that still needs more time to mature, Kopach put the weight of the entire team on his shoulders and tried to do too much.

All three teams have given themselves an extended offseason to think about what went wrong.

Are the correct pieces in place and as talented as first thought? Or is something missing and can it be addressed through the recruitment of a talented freshman or junior college transfer?

Soccer and football have of key pieces to replace - soccer loses goaltender Jessica Baker while football loses Kopach - while volleyball will need someone to do what senior Emma Wolfe did and step up to lead the offense.

Expectations should be high again for all three teams in 2012, but there should also be plenty of cautious optimism.

This sports writer for one has no intentions of buying into the hype, or worse, creating it.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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