Northwood Timberwolves’ Hunter Viitala happy to return home

Northwood’s Hunter Vitala has the ball with Northern Michigan University’s Jessica Schultz defending at far left Thursday evening at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — Thursday night’s Northern Michigan University women’s basketball game had a very Marquette feel to it.

That may be due to Marquette Senior High School alumnae Terese Ledy and Amber Huebner playing for the Wildcats.

But there was another MSHS alumna present last night as well.

When No. 24 for the visiting Northwood Timberwolves was announced over the public address system at the Berry Events Center, the player got a noticeable round of applause from the crowd. More than you would usually see for the opposition.

That’s because she was sophomore Hunter Viitala.

The 2015 graduate and former MSHS volleyball, track and yes, basketball star made her return to Marquette on Thursday to face the Wildcats and two former teammates. The guard played 18 minutes and tallied three points in the contest in which Northwood came out victorious.

Viitala said it’s always nice to return to Marquette, whether it’s after a long semester of college or making the trip for a game.

“It’s weird staying in a hotel in your hometown,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s nice to be home and to see all of my family.”

Viitala said she had several relatives as well as friends in attendance.

“Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, old coaches … a lot of fans,” she said.

One of those “old coaches” in attendance was MSHS girls head coach Ben Smith, who Viitala gave a giant hug to before the game.

Smith said he and Viitala still keep in contact whenever the two can.

“I keep in touch with her,” he said. “She refs our (basketball) camps and stuff in the summer and comes back and says hi whenever she can. It’s crazy to me she’s already been away from us for three years, but it’s also nice to see her out there running around.

“With her energy and effort in there competing, it’s cool to see her hard work getting her in position to get on the floor and make a difference in these games.”

Smith didn’t leave out Ledy and Huebner either.

“I love the fact that I can go a few blocks and watch them,” he said. “It’s great to see all the hard work they’ve put in over the years.”

While Viitala already had a homecoming trip to Marquette last season, this is her first season as a starter for the Timberwolves.

“It’s nice to be out on the court,” she said. “Obviously being redshirted my first year and not playing much my freshman year, it’s nice to get back into competition and play a lot.”

Viitala said things are going well with the team’s 4-2 start and she enjoys the location and setting in Midland of Northwood University, where she’s majoring in marketing.

“It’s a very small school, so I liked the small school feel of it all,” she said. “It’s also a business school and going in not knowing what I wanted to major in, it’s very business specific. Obviously the schooling is outstanding and the basketball team is great, too.”

It doesn’t go without saying she misses Marquette and the Upper Peninsula just as much.

“When you leave the U.P., you don’t appreciate it when you’re here,” she said. “Not being around water or having a beach around you, it’s different and I definitely miss it.”

After college, Viitala is uncertain whether she’ll continue playing basketball but wants to do something with a marketing degree.

“I don’t know if that’s (basketball) in the cards,” she said. “I would like to obviously use my degree and get a job and hopefully move back up here, but we’ll see where everything lands.”

Asked for one thing to share with the Marquette community, Viitala simply and humbly wanted to give a big thank you.

“Just thank you for the support and sticking around with me,” she said. “I have a lot of people say that they keep track of me and I just really appreciate that.”

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.