Pivotal weekend: Despite winless GLIAC mark, Northern Michigan University lacrosse team still has shot at league tournament

Northern Michigan University’s Megan Palacio, left, runs with Indianapolis’ Riley McClure during the first half on Sunday at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ray Bressette)

MARQUETTE — The playoff hopes for the Northern Michigan University women’s lacrosse team are still alive as they head into their final weekend of the season.

The Wildcats, who sit eighth in the GLIAC, will host the two opponents standing in their way of the postseason, with Walsh (0-5) visiting the Superior Dome at 6 p.m. today, followed by Lake Erie (2-3) at noon Sunday for the regular season finale.

NMU (2-11 overall, 0-5 GLIAC) is still searching for a win in the conference in its inaugural season while riding a six-game losing streak. Northern needs to win out with some extra help to have a chance at qualifying for the GLIAC tournament.

Wildcat head coach Emilia Ward said her team feels their fortunes will change this weekend.

“We’re excited and confident to have the opportunity to get back in the win column,” Ward said. “We feel we have a chance to get some wins against solid teams to finish the year.

“Everyone is back in our lineup and this is the healthiest we’ve been all season, so we’re confident heading into these games.”

The biggest returnee for NMU is sophomore Shelby Klotz, who has been sidelined nearly a month with a concussion.

Despite missing six games, Klotz still remains the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 26 goals and 27 points.

Ward said it’s a different team when Klotz is on the field.

“She’s a tremendous leader who brings a lot of confidence,” Ward said. “She knows her capabilities and feels strong, and that brings confidence to our other girls.

“It’s a huge plus to have her back for our offense because we need another scorer down low who can have some contact and an impact. She puts an extra burden on the other team’s defense.”

Klotz’s return will come against Walsh, which is riding a six-game losing streak of its own.

Cavaliers goalie Mikaela Faus has recorded the second-most saves in the GLIAC this season with 111, with a defense that Ward said is hard to break.

“Walsh has improved a lot over the last few years,” Ward said. “They play really against some of the top teams in our conference.

“Their defense packs it in around the net and doesn’t allow a whole lot of space, and their offense has a lot of players who put in good shifts.”

While NMU is in action against the Cavaliers, Lake Erie will be playing on the road at Grand Valley, a crucial game the Wildcats need the Storm to lose.

If the Wildcats win Friday and Lake Erie falls to Grand Valley, Sunday will become a win-and-in for NMU and the Storm on Sunday afternoon.

But Ward said Lake Erie is an opponent that can’t be overlooked after the Storm upset Findlay on the road last week.

“Lake Erie holds really good offenses to low production,” Ward said. “They are very aggressive. We have to make sure we don’t rush anything and look for open holes to get to the net.”

But Ward added her team can only focus on what they can control, and their main goal is to carry momentum after what she called an “encouraging performance” last week in a home loss to Indianapolis.

“We need to build off the play against Indianapolis,” Ward said. “If we can get even more production out of more girls it will be phenomenal.

“We need to get our first conference win out of the way and get more positives rolling heading into the offseason for the players who will be back next season and also our fans who have been there for us.”

Ray Bressette can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. His email address is rbressette@miningjournal.net.