One last hurrah

After serious injury, Tompkins dons ‘Cats uniform a final time

Northern Michigan University’s Chloe Tompkins, right, works the ball toward the basket against Michigan Tech University defender Morgan Anderson during a game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Feb. 1, 2016. (Cory Genovese photo/Courtesy NMU)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team won the opening tip in its game versus visiting Northwood University at the Berry Events Center on Saturday afternoon.

It wasn’t just any regular tipoff, though, it was one that teammate Taylor Hodell won back to Chloe Tompkins.

While that doesn’t seem like anything earth-shattering, it was for the Tompkins, a senior from Dousman, Wisconsin.

It was Tompkins’ first appearance in a Wildcats’ game since Jan. 12, 2017, when she suffered what for practical purposes was a career-ending knee injury in a road game at Saginaw Valley State during her sophomore season.

For the rest of the 2016-17 season and through to this season, Tompkins has remained on the roster, playing a leadership role on the bench and being named a four-year captain.

NMU head coach Troy Mattson wanted to give Tompkins a fitting ending to her career at the Berry Events Center, which held Senior Day ceremonies on Saturday.

Mattson put her in the starting lineup, taking the BEC floor for the first time since Dec. 17, 2016, in a game against Hillsdale.

Northwood let Hodell win the tipoff back to Tompkins, who then immediately checked out of the game and walked back toward the NMU bench to a big round of applause from the crowd and a waiting Mattson, who traded a big hug with Tompkins before returning to the bench.

Tompkins said it was an obvious emotional moment for her, and was appreciative of her coaches, teammates and the opposition for setting it up.

“It’s bittersweet. Everyone kind of expects to go out for their senior year, play and have a high-scoring night,” she said. “Obviously, I knew it wasn’t going to be like that, but to be able to go out on the court with my best friends and being back in a jersey was a really powerful experience. I’m really grateful for coach to do that and for the Northwood coach (Jeff Curtis) to do it as well.”

Mattson said he was more than happy to keep Tompkins on the roster for her remaining seasons of eligibility.

“She’s a wonderful young lady,” he said. “Unfortunately, things like that happen in athletes’ lives where careers have to end. She would have been a great player here for us. She was already on track to be a great player as a sophomore.

“It really hurt our program a lot, but she’s going to go on to do wonderful things in life and that’s the next biggest step for her.”

Tompkins was a starter in 38 of her 42 career games for the Wildcats, averaging 29.6 minutes per game, 7.7 points per game and 39.5 percent shooting from the field.

Tompkins said Mattson, along with her teammates and family, meant a lot to her throughout her long recovery journey.

“Throughout this whole thing, it’s been really hard for not only me, but it’s been just as hard for my mom and dad,” she said. “Everything their daughter goes through, they go through, too.

“Same with coach (Mattson). He’s my second dad up here. Every single surgery I had or every single left turn that my recovery took, to have a coach and a family who’s there for me and has supported me and loved me through all of this, that’s been the difference as to why I’m kind of here right now.”

Tompkins is a public relations major at NMU and also hopes to get into coaching in the future.

Despite not being able to play, she’s grateful for the team, her second family, for keeping her on board over the last few years.

“It means a lot,” she said. “Even though I can’t be on the court helping, to be able to see them having such a successful season kind of helps me be able to sit on the sidelines. I’m so proud of them. They’re doing really well and as far as being able to play goes, I think this team is going to go out on a really good note.”