MARQUETTE - Ending the season with an overtime loss in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional quarterfinals, the Northern Michigan University women's basketball team is proud of its many accomplishments, but hungry for more.
NMU was up by 16 points early in the second half of the quarterfinal, but Quincy made the switch to zone and pressed the Wildcats, who had difficulties making baskets in the last 15 minutes of play.
"I think we let one slip away, to tell you the truth," head coach Troy Mattson said. "I think the girls feel that."
Northern Michigan University juniors Alyssa Colla, right, and Abbey DeBruin celebrate a close win over Saginaw Valley State University on Feb. 13 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Northern?Michigan?University junior guard Lauren?Gruber, right, drives past Malone University’s Alyssa Brandon on March 9 during the Wildcats’ GLIAC?Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship victory over the Patriots at Wayne State in Detroit. (Photo courtesy of the GLIAC)
"But having the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament was special, especially for this group to be able to achieve those goals."
The Wildcats earned the title of GLIAC Champions this year for the first time since 2000 and jumped from 13 wins last year to a 22-8 season. Going into the NCAA tournament, the 'Cats were on a 10-game win streak.
"Once you obtain some success, the hardest thing is to keep that success there for as long as you can," Mattson said. "We need to get back to that level we were at this year and hopefully we can expand on it and become better."
What's especially challenging about maintaining success in college athletics, Mattson said, is the turnover rate with students graduating each year.
That won't be a problem in 2014-15.
While losing two seniors, NMU returns nearly its entire core group of players next year including juniors Alyssa Colla, Lauren Gruber, Abbey DeBruin and Courtney Lemon, sophomores Nea Makela and Alyson Matkovich, and freshman Bre Gaspervich.
Colla, who led the Wildcats with an average 16.4 points per game, was named to the All-GLIAC First Team and All-Midwest Region Second \Team.
"It just shows the effort she has put in the last couple of years to be become a better basketball player," Mattson said.
"She fits into the way we like to play and she really has succeeded in everything and what she's trying to do for Northern Michigan University."
GLIAC tournament MVP Gruber was named to the GLIAC All-Defensive Team for the second year running and had 9.9 points per game for the 'Cats.
"She just brings that energy and that toughness that you need in every program," Mattson said. "She's an incredible leader by example and vocally."
After her first year with the Wildcats, Mattson sees potential in Gaspervich, who used her speed and fearlessness to the team's advantage throughout the season.
"I think she's got a chance to be a special player here," Mattson said. "What we need to do is make sure she becomes more consistent with the things she can do on a nightly basis."
Despite the strong returners, the Wildcats will lose senior Annie Rubendunst, who upped her game shortly after sophomore Anna Liewen went down with a season-ending knee injury six games in. Rubendunst scored a team-high 20 points in NMU's final game of the season.
"Annie had a great finish to her senior year," Mattson said. "We need to try and find people who are either going to step up and fill that position and play well or we need to look at the new recruits that we have coming in."
Mattson said he signed on four players and is trying to recruit one more for next year. All four that have committed to NMU are guards that will provide the 'Cats length and athleticism.
"I'm not really worried about how much they step on the court next year for us, but in the future they're going to have to be able to help us with the transition of losing a big class in a year or so," Mattson said.
The Wildcats begin offseason training next week, where they will have a chance to focus on what needs improvement individually and begin their lifting programs for the upcoming year.
"We need to get back in the weight room and get everybody a little bit stronger," Mattson said. "We'll send plans home with them for the summer to get themselves ready to come back next year and try to do it all over again."