MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University sophomore guards Alyssa Colla and Lauren Gruber averaged over 36 minutes per game for the Wildcats women's basketball program in 2012-13.
Sophomore forward Abbey DeBruin averaged over 20 minutes, as did freshman forward Nea Makela.
Overall, nine Wildcats averaged 10-plus minutes per outing this season and every one of those nine 'Cats are either freshmen or sophomores.
Northern Michigan sophomore guard Lauren Gruber drives to the hoop as Saginaw Valley State’s Danielle Carriere tries to stop her during the first half on Jan. 17 at the Berry Events Center. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
Because of those minutes, head coach Troy Mattson is done calling his squad young.
It's time for his 'Cats to grow up.
"We're not young anymore," Mattson said. "The freshmen played. The sophomores played major minutes. We need to get better now as a team. I think the understanding of how to play should be pretty much where we want it. They just need to get better at everything we do."
A core group of seven sophomores and two freshmen led Northern to a 13-14 overall record and 10-12 GLIAC record in 2012-13, with the season ending in Ashland, Ohio for the second-straight year via a first-round loss as the No. 8 seed to the No. 1 AU Eagles.
For the 'Cats, 2012-13 mirrored the 2011-12 season when NMU finished 13-14 overall and 9-10 in league play, good for the eighth seed in the GLIAC tournament.
The 2012-13 season is moving day, so to speak, for Mattson and that expected jump will be fueled by maturity, according to the eight-year head women's coach.
"We need to make a move next year," Mattson said. "Can we contend for a conference title? Can we contend to get into the national tournament? That needs to happen next year, because you don't want to put all your eggs into one senior season and then somebody gets injured or something falls through and it doesn't happen for you."
The Wildcats expect to return every key component from this year's squad with Mattson only looking to add one piece to aid Gruber and Colla in scoring.
Colla averaged 12.9 points, 2.9 assists and 36.4 minutes per game to lead Northern in scoring, assists and playing time. She shot 84 percent from the free throw line and 39.3 percent from the field, appearing in all 27 games.
"We always thought Alyssa was going to be a major player when we recruited her," Mattson said. "She probably got thrown into being the go-to-player a little earlier on than most programs would like. In the long run, it's going to be a benefit for her and for our team."
Gruber was second in all three categories to Colla, averaging 11.6 points, 2.8 assists and 36.1 minutes in 27 games. She shot 85.7 percent from the foul line, 40.4 percent from beyond the arc and 46.5 percent from the field.
Mattson admitted Gruber's emergence was a surprise this season.
"She is our tenacity, our toughness on the defensive end," Mattson said.
"For her to be able to score between 11-12 and 13-14 points a game was just a big plus for us. We didn't know if we had that additional scorer. It turned out to be her."
Mattson said Gruber and Colla ate up too many minutes, but there wasn't anyone that could match the sophomore duo's production.
At least on the outside that is.
In the paint, Makela and DeBruin proved pivotal to the Wildcats' success while sophomore Brooke Cooenen emerged late as a go-to-player in the post.
Makela averaged 8.8 points and 21.4 minutes in 25 games while DeBruin posted an average of 7.4 points per outing and 24.7 minutes a night.
Mattson said Makela had a typical freshmen year - "very good games, incredible games and then was nonexistent some games" - while DeBruin made a big jump between her freshman and sophomore year.
Coenen only averaged 3.9 points per game over 27 games, averaging 13.7 minutes a night. In the final seven games, however, Coenen averaged 17.6 minutes and 7.4 points per game.
"Brooke Coenen is now becoming a player, someone we can throw the ball to in the post and know we're going to get a good shot up and get points," Mattson said.
Mattson said the season wasn't just a learning experience for his young players, but for him and his staff. With so many sophomores and freshmen in key roles, the Wildcats faced a lot of unknowns when the season began in October.
Like his players, however, Mattson said he has a much better understanding of what needs to be done for Northern Michigan to make the moves necessary to compete for titles.
"We had a lot to learn about ourselves and to tell you the truth, I think we did, especially the last four to five weeks." Mattson said. "I really thought we settled in defensively.
"I thought our offense was coming around. We were starting to find those role players and understood who was able to do what."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org