Lacrosse a new varsity sport coming to NMU

MARQUETTE — While several new varsity teams have been added to the Northern Michigan University landscape over the past few years, this weekend will be the first unveiling of a new sport to the program in a long time.

The NMU women’s lacrosse team will be the first varsity collegiate team in that sport in the Upper Peninsula, though the school has had club teams for a number of years. Other additions recently have included women’s golf, joining the men’s team; and men’s swimming and soccer, which complemented the women’s squads of those sports.

The lacrosse team has prepared for nearly five months for their first game, a home game against Northland College from Wisconsin at noon Saturday. It should be a fair fight, since the LumberJills are also in their inaugural season with a pair of shutout losses last weekend to open their season.

Not a winter sport by any stretch, the lacrosse Wildcats team will play their home games in the Superior Dome.

Cost for tickets per game is $5 general admission and $3 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased at the dome’s main entrance before game time or are available in advance at the NMU ticket office by calling 227-1032 or by visiting the website Tickets.NMU.edu.

“Our goal is to bring an exciting brand of lacrosse to the U.P.,” head coach Emilia Ward said. “Our work ethic is going to be there day in and day out. We’re going to be a competitive program early on, going into April, going into conference play.”

The team has a rather unusual schedule, with three home games to open the season, the next two during the first week of March, then nine on the road before returning to play the final three home games during the last week of April.

While nothing with a new team is a given, Ward feels confident with her mix of true freshmen, transfers and former club athletes entering the GLIAC, which is a relatively new sport there, too.

“It makes it a little easier for us to come in as a new program and make a mark for ourselves, whether it’s winning a ton of games or being competitive in those games,” Ward said. “Teams are either in a rebuild or they’re within their first five years of existence still. So a lot of games are kind of a 50-50 coin flip.”

But the Wildcats were still chosen to finish eighth out of eight teams in a preseason poll released last week.

Six of the other seven teams in the league should be familiar to Northern football and basketball fans — Grand Valley State, Tiffin, Walsh, Findlay, Lake Erie and former full-time member Indianapolis — with McKendree University of Lebanon, Illinois, the new face. Indy and McKendree are members of the Great Lakes Valley Conference for most sports.

GVSU, Tiffin and McKendree were chosen as the top three teams in the preseason poll.

Ward says midfielders Shelby Klotz, Graison Ringlever and Savannah Stich have already emerged as leaders. Klotz, a transfer, is expected to be an offensive threat after finishing second on Brevard College’s team in goals with 34, points with 39 and draw controls with 31 in 2016.

“They’re going to be very, very vital for us,” Ward said. “They’ll be leaders both offensively and defensively. They’ll be calming influences on the field.”

The Wildcats are also confident taking chances on offense knowing that Brianna Bangle is guarding the net. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native comes from a unique background — after playing NCAA Division II lacrosse at Brevard in 2015, she transferred to NMU and was the starting goaltender on the women’s club hockey team that qualified for last year’s American College Hockey Association national tournament.

“She’s a very, very solid goaltender,” Ward said. “She comes out of Minnesota; (she’s) really structurally sound (and) will be a great leader back there for us.”

Bangle has a solid defense corps in front of her, with the majority having played together on the club team for a season or more.

“They’ve experienced playing together, playing within a system,” Ward said. “Their communication is really strong as a group, which will help us definitely go forth with a younger attack core.”

Information compiled by Journal Sports Writer Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.