Northern Michigan University Wildcats’ lacrosse team making progress in 3rd year

Northern Michigan University’s Graison Ringlever, left, runs with McKendree’s Hannah Sugarman following in their match held April 29 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Corey Kelly)

Up next: NMU vs. Davenport, 5 p.m. Friday, at Superior Dome (moved to earlier time)

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MARQUETTE — It may not look like it if you glance at its overall record, but the Northern Michigan University women’s lacrosse team has made a lot of progress from last season to this one.

The Wildcats are only 1-3, but won their season opener in a blowout, lost a tight one on the road to Wheeling Jesuit a week ago and then fell in overtime to Lake Erie on Thursday.

NMU head coach Emilia Ward likes what she’s seen so far and feels like her team continues to improve.

“It’s gone really well,” she said. “We’re 1-3, but definitely a very different start to the season than last year.

“This spring break trip we knew was going to be a huge test, three games in five days with 12 hours on a bus in between games.

“We started it out playing the (then) No. 4 team in the country (Lindenwood) here at home and battled really hard. It was 7-4 at halftime and last year, they were up by almost 15 on us at halftime.

“The second half started well, but then they went on a run and played like the No. 4 team, which for us as a coaching staff, we forced them into adjustments and the girls really executed the game plan early, forcing them to play a full 60 (minutes) against us, which was a huge accomplishment.

“Then we went on the road and played two games in basically 20-degree weather, which for a team that spends their time inside, that was definitely … a big adjustment.

“We went to the Wheeling game and the first 15 minutes were a struggle. We didn’t execute very well. They got comfortable and their three top players were pretty comfortable for a lot of the game.

“We found ourselves down 13-6 and battled back and got it within one. .

“Then we traveled to Lake Erie the following night and they had a full week to prep for us and we had basically less than 24 hours to prep for them with a pretty senior-laden lineup for them.

“We lost in overtime, but battled super hard at the end of the game.”

“We head into conference play where we’re really excited where our group is going. We’ve got some freshmen that are playing at an extremely high level, which is great not only for the future of the program but also where we want to go this season.”

Two of those freshmen are midfielder Jessica Daniels and teammate Emily Renfrew. Daniels is fourth in the GLIAC in goals and has become the second weapon for the Wildcats behind Graison Ringlever, while Renfrew has got the hot hand lately with a breakout performance against Lake Erie.

“She’s (Daniels) just been a dominant force in every single game and pretty much every aspect, whether it’s definitely in our midfield and offensively, she’s been a really nice surprise as a freshman,” Ward said. “Emily is starting to come on as well. She’s starting to find her own on the offensive end. She’s helped us out a lot in the draw control circle.

“Against Lake Erie, she kind of broke out and had four goals against them.”

When it comes to experience, that might play a big role in the Wildcats’ next game as they take on Davenport in the Superior Dome at 5 p.m. Friday.

NMU won its first-ever conference game against the Panthers last season and most of the players remember that, so it creates an interesting storyline.

“It should be great,” Ward said. “Obviously, Davenport last year we got our first conference victory ever against them last year at home and they’ve definitely become a nice little rivalry for us.

“Part of it is because we’re both in the same spot. Our programs are trying to make that push. It should be a lot of fun. “

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