Trying to build on brilliant moments

NMU women's soccer looks to make strides in Basma's second year as head coach

Northern Michigan’s Madison Hamilla, center, prepares to pass the ball to a teammate, followed by Michigan Tech’s Kirsen Hudak Sunday afternoon, Oct. 8, 2017, at NMU’s soccer field. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Last season was a new era for the Northern Michigan University women’s soccer team as a new coach was taking the helm.

However, whenever that happens, it can take a while to make adjustments and for the team to get on the right track.

That seemed to be the case early in the year as the Wildcats lost their first five games of the season and got shut out in three of them. However, things started to turn around after that as Northern picked up its first win in mid-September with a shutout of Northwood and didn’t give up a goal in its next two games.

The Wildcats also earned two big wins late in the year with an upset of Ferris State and a double-overtime win over rival Michigan Tech. NMU finished 4-11-2 (2-5-2 GLIAC), which was good enough for seventh place and the Wildcats’ fifth straight trip to the GLIAC Tournament.

Looking back on her first year as Wildcats head coach, Sonia Basma knew coming into Marquette that it was going to take some time to move the program forward, but she felt that her squad made a lot of progress as the year went on.

“It was a rebuilding year for us and I’m really happy with the direction that the program is headed in,” she said. “We saw a lot of positive things and we had some brilliant moments. For example, playing Ferris State and beating them, who at that time, I believe, was the number 2 team in the conference. So, we saw brilliance in moments, but a lot of positive things. We heard a lot of good feedback from other coaches and I think we made a presence last fall. We were a lot more organized and had a game plan. It was a good starting year and it was good year for me to really get in there and get my feet wet.”

Basma also said for her, success wasn’t so much where the team finished in the conference, but more so how her team continued to improve.

“Obviously, finishing seventh in the conference, one (place) better than the year before that, you look at the little steps in the right direction,” she said. “For me, it’s not so much about the standings. You saw brilliance with that team in moments last year and it just shows you that good things are ahead. We (the coaches) mentally prepared them for those games and during the season, we had moments of brilliance and I think we’ll see more and more of that now that the girls have had a year and a half under me.”

Looking at the key players coming back, sophomore forward Jenna Halonen stands out the most as she led the Wildcats with eight goals and 18 points last year. However, she’s not the only scoring threat as Aimee Colla will provide some good support. On the back end, senior defender Sophia Sachs will anchor the Wildcats’ line. Basma also says she’s got some good players joining the team this season that could see a significant amount of playing time.

“Jenna was a good attacker for us and she made a good mark her first year,” Basma said. “We’re expecting some big things from her this year because she’ll have a lot of support around her with the incoming players coming in. In terms of returners, when you look at the back line, we have Sophia, who just holds the back line. She’s the anchor back there and she’s just a great leader. We have Aimee, who is an attacking force for us and another great leader. The good thing is we have a lot of great players coming in and we’ll be a young team for sure, but I’m excited.”

Basma also likes her goalkeeper situation as Brianna Frontuto did a solid job in her first year in net. She started 16 out of the 17 games and had the third-highest amount of saves in the GLIAC and the fifth-highest save percentage. She also racked up four solo shutouts.

“Brianna is coming back and the special thing about Bri is that the first year here, she redshirted, so she didn’t get a lot experience playing,” Basma said. “So last year was really her first year stepping on the field and playing. She was a tremendous player for us. She played 90-plus minutes and with that sort of inexperience coming in, you wouldn’t expect she would perform the way she performed last year. She definitely exceeded expectations, which was amazing and we’re excited to have her back.”

Basma says that her team will need to be constantly improving as the season goes, but she said that she thinks that one of Northern’s strengths this year will be some new innovations in the offensive end of the field.

“I definitely think we’ll be more creative in the final third, which is the attacking end,” she said. “That’s really my goal. To make sure that we’re a little more creative going forward and putting the ball in the back of the net. We have a lot of exciting players coming in, so that’s what we’ll look forward to.”

As far as personal goals go in her second year as coach, Basma says she’ll be evaluating her performance often and that she really wants to understand how each player is as a person to help coach them better.

“For me, it’s just constant improvement as a coach,” she said. “20 years down the line, I’ll still be saying the same thing. That’s my goal. Just to make sure that I’m constantly evaluating my coaching style and making sure that it’s receptive. That’s the important thing. The only way to do that is knowing the personalities that I have on my team. No matter how good of a coach you are or how good you get, the reality is that there’s going to be new personalities every year. So, you almost have to re-adjust every year and learn new personalities and new ways to figure things out. I’m happy that I have a good support system here at NMU and that I have some quality coaches that coached me that I still reach out to for advice.”

With less than month to go before the season opener, Basma is concentrating on making sure her team is playing the right way and playing their own style.

“I focus so much on making sure that we’re doing the right things and that we’re playing our game,” she said. “That we’re doing the right things, so we can increase our chances of winning. The unfortunate part of our sport is that as you saw in the World Cup, you can dominate a match 99 percent of it, but still end up losing. Our goal is that we’re doing all the right things defensively and offensively, with our work ethic in general, to increase our chances of walking away with wins. I’m feeling pretty good.”

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