Northern Michigan University womens basketball look to continue strong defensive start
NMU faces two NSIC teams
MARQUETTE — Defense was the name of the game for the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team last weekend, and coach Troy Mattson looks for his team to keep emphasizing that part of its game as it opens its home schedule with a pair of Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference teams coming to the Berry Events Center starting Friday.
The Wildcats swept their portion of the Great Lakes Valley Conference/GLIAC Challenge event last weekend at Grand Valley State in Allendale, holding off Truman State and Quincy universities to begin its campaign at 2-0. Despite scoring just 59 points each game, the wins came as NMU gave up an average of just 51 points per contest.
Northern faces a pair of Minnesota schools, Concordia-St. Paul at 6 p.m. Friday and Minnesota-Crookston at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re in a good spot defensively and feel good about our game as we head home,” Mattson said. “We’re making it hard for our opponents to go on any kind of run, and both teams we played (last weekend) had to work for everything they got.
“At times we’re making plays on offense with a lot of energy. We have the benefit of a deep bench, and a few of our freshmen are playing outstanding to start the season.”
He still terms it a deep bench despite the absence of sophomore and projected starting center Taylor Hodell, who is sidelined with an injury.
Freshman Jessica Schultz has stepped in her place, scoring 14 points and pulling down six rebounds against Quincy.
Mattson looks for continued contributions from another freshman, Erin Honkala, who came off the bench against Truman and scored 13 points.
For Schultz, Honkala and five other freshmen, this weekend will be their first time stepping foot on the Berry court, a place Mattson said they need to familiarize themselves with. The team generally only gets to play games there when the ice rink’s surface is covered.
“The biggest thing this week is to get comfortable on our home court,” Mattson said. “We have the chance to get this team practicing and playing finally at home, and we need to carry the defensive approach we’ve been playing with a lot of toughness and effort.”
The Berry is a familiar home for senior guard Bre Gaspervich, NMU’s lone senior and leading scorer who was a part of the Northern team that lost a last-second overtime game to Concordia in the teams’ last meeting at the Berry in 2014.
The Golden Bears return Mishayla Jones and Anna Schmitt, as well as 6-foot-2 center Caitlyn Russell, all of whom averaged double-digits in scoring last season.
“Concordia has very athletic guards who have a lot of speed,” Mattson said. “They’re almost as quick as (Gaspervich), so they’re going to give us issues out front.
“Their height with their post players and their ability to score inside the paint will force our defense to go outward, but we’re preparing properly with the same approach as last week.”
The Golden Bears were projected to finish seventh out of 16 teams in the NSIC this season in the preseason poll.
The Wildcats then turn their attention to Crookston, which was picked 11th in the NCIS.
The Golden Eagles lost their two leading scorers to graduation, but still have a starter back in guard Alison Hughes, who averaged double-digit points last season.
Mattson said the game plan won’t steer away from developing his young team in nonconference play.
“We’re a bit banged up right now, but players are getting healthy and we’re seeing some good progression from our younger girls who are out there now,” he said. “We have these (nonconference) games to continue improving our game and get our players back. If we keep playing like we’ve been playing, a lot of good things will happen for us this week.”
Ray Bressette can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. His email address is email@example.com.