Just like starting over

NMU women’s soccer team lands new coach, hopes to get back into GLIAC playoffs

Northern Michigan University’s Allyssa Milam, right, defends against Michigan Tech’s Megan Armstrong during their game played at the NMU Soccer Field in Marquette on Sept. 17. Milam, a senior this season, has been termed a key defender by new Wildcats head coach Sonia Basma as they look to get back into the top half of the league against this fall. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — Last fall, the Northern Michigan University women’s soccer team struggled for the first time in quite awhile.

After the Wildcats won their first game in a blowout over Finlandia, they went on a 10-game winless streak and were promptly dismissed from the GLIAC tournament by Grand Valley State to finish the season at 4-10-4 overall, 3-4-4 in the GLIAC.

However, there is a new coach at the helm this year in Sonia Basma, who was the head coach at Nichols College in Massachusetts. She also played in college at American International College and later semi-professionally. She decided to come to Marquette because of the talent level available and the possibility of building a quality program.

“I watched them play before I took this job and I saw that there are some good players that come here,” she said. “I thought that this is a pretty good level. For us, a lot of people don’t know about NMU and that’s the biggest challenge, but every person we bring up here for a recruiting visit, they fall in love with the area. For me, the heights we can reach are enormous.”

When she looks at her roster, Basma said she has a good mix of players.

“I think that we have a lot of good incoming players, but we also have some returners who can contribute,” she said. “A lot of our forwards are going to be new, but (midfielders) Abby Cook and (Marquette alum) Casey Durand should be very good for us.

“One forward that could be good for us is Maddie Herbert and on defense, Ally Milam and Raven Mitchell will also be key players. I’m excited to work with all of them and the new players coming in.”

An interesting aspect of the roster is the four goalkeepers competing for the top spot, which Basma thinks is important to keep them motivated.

“I’m excited about that because it keeps them on the edge and fighting for that starting spot,” she said. “We have a lot of talent there and I’m looking forward to seeing who steps up on a weekly basis.”

Basma also has some international players, which she thinks sets her squad apart from other teams in the GLIAC. But she also emphasized that NMU shouldn’t overlook any talent within the state or around the area. She also likes that soccer seems to be growing in popularity around Marquette and looks forward to getting to know people around the community.

“We have a Canadian kid coming in and a Swedish girl and an English girl, so I’m very big on getting international players,” she said. “I think that is something that is different from other teams, but it’s also important that we keep an eye out for Michigan girls because there is a lot of talent there, too.

“I think soccer is really big here. I mean just about everybody has played soccer growing up and now that I have an assistant coach with me, it’ll be easier to work with the community and the youth. I think if we start to develop players at a younger age like how to play the game and fundamentals, it’ll be easier to move those kids up to the college level.”

Looking at the GLIAC, NMU was tied for sixth in the preseason poll with conference newcomer Davenport. Basma thinks that isn’t necessarily accurate and that the Wildcats can be successful this year. However, she feels that it’s more important to establish a culture and a standard for excellence first before focusing on wins and losses.

“This is a pretty good conference and we’ve been in the top half for the most part except for last year,” the coach said. “In the poll, we came in tied for sixth, but I definitely think we can finish higher than that.

“As much as we want to win and do well, that’s not the priority for me this first year. It’s building a team and setting up a culture; … the wins will come after that. We want to set a standard and live and breathe by it.

“I’m not one to go around our rules and expectations. If a kid is not doing what we need them to do off the field, then they won’t step on the field for me. If a player tests the waters, if you put them in place right away, it sends a message that it won’t happen again.

“I think there is a lot of potential here. The biggest thing is to push the culture this year and if the girls adapt well to it, I think we can be a very successful team. This is a great team and we just need to keep our expectations high.”

Northern plays Minnesota schools early in the season, opening on Friday, Sept. 1, at St. Cloud State with another road game on Sunday, Sept. 3, at Winona State. The home campaign begins with Minnesota-Duluth on Friday, Sept. 8, and Bemidji State on Sunday, Sept. 10.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.