MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University women's soccer program is ready to put 2012 behind it.
The Wildcats encountered their first losing season in nine years under head coach Matt Granstrand in the fall, winning only four games overall and three games in the GLIAC to finish 11th out of 14 teams in the league.
But it wasn't the losses on the field that made 2012 so tough.
Northern Michigan University freshman goalkeeper Siri Skogland of Norway makes a save during a spring practice on Thursday, March 28 inside the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
On Nov. 30, redshirt freshman Arianna Alioto drowned during an offseason team workout in the PEIF pool. An investigation ruled the 18-year-old's death to be an accidental drowning, but still left many questions unanswered.
Granstrand said he and the team are still grieving the death of their teammate, however, a return to soccer this month has helped the team heal.
"At the end of the day, we're up and down," Granstrand said. "I am, the girls are. ...
"Playing soccer is why we are here. Obviously academics, but soccer is our thing. I think we're happiest when we're on the field. I think were happiest when we are training. It's going to be a long process, but getting back to soccer is certainly helpful."
After weeks of drill and scrimmages, the Wildcats will get back to game action this weekend when it hosts a spring exhibition tournament Saturday and Sunday inside the Superior Dome on the artificial pitch.
On Saturday, the 'Cats will face off against the University of Wisconsin-Superior at noon, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Vipers at 4 p.m. and the NMU women's alumni team at 6 p.m.
On Sunday, NMU takes on the Vipers again at 11 a.m. and the alumni team at 3 p.m.
Other teams participating are the NMU women's club program and Marquette Senior High School. The Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech men's club programs wrap up the action at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
All games are open to the public and admission is free.
"Fitness is kind of getting old, so I'm happy to be out here playing with the girls," said NMU sophomore Tevun Seller, who led NMU in scoring in 2012 with four goals. "We're all excited to get back at it.
"We all look back at last season and go, 'Yikes, that was really bad.' I think we're all out here ready to work hard and change things, maybe do really good next year."
Granstrand said his spring seasons emphasize technical development and an individual focus on positions. This year, however, he is bringing back an old friend.
After trying to open up the offense in 2012 - and getting shutout 10 times - Granstrand is returning to the possession-based system his teams played in his previous eight seasons
It's the system - also known as counter-attacking - Granstrand executed during the program's run to the NCAA tournament in 2010.
"It really allows you to move the ball and dictate the tempo of a game," Granstrand said.
"There is one system I like. We're going to learn it and be comfortable with it and we'll add a second one in the fall."
Sellers said she is a fan of the move as well, having scored six goals in 19 games as a freshman in Granstrand's favorite scheme.
"I've been a forward ever since I started playing, so I'm excited for that," Sellers said. "It comes natural."
The Wildcats haven't just introduced themselves to an old friend this spring, but a new one as well in freshman goalkeeper Siri Skogland of Norway.
The 5-foot-8 goalie was originally slated to join Northern for the 2012 season, but her arrival was delayed until the winter semester.
Skogland said it hasn't been too hard for her to initially adjust to American soccer since she is a goalkeeper and that the team has been very welcoming since arriving in January.
"I always wanted to play soccer here, but I didn't know how to get it started," Skogland said. "I got an email from Matt because he had talked to my coach back home.
"It's great. I've been waiting for a long time."
In addition to Skogland, NMU is bringing in two more goaltenders to compete with the Norwegian and Shelby Conard, who will be a sophomore in the fall after starting 14 of 17 games last season.
Joining NMU in August is 5-11 keeper Caroline Glantz of Sweden plus all-state goalie Alex Simmons, who gave up only one game at home as a junior at Gaylord High School last spring.
While not having Skogland in 2012 was tough, Granstrand said the Norwegian's early arrival for the fall of 2013 is a big positive for the program.
"Better late than never. We're happy to have her here," Granstrand said about Skogland.
"It's such a cultural difference for her just to be here. It's taken here awhile to settle in and now she is. We'll go into the fall with a player who is comfortable with her teammates and the American style of soccer. It's huge, and to be able to train this spring with two keepers instead of one allows us to accomplish a lot more."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.