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Add a little seasoning: Northern Michigan University women’s soccer team reaps experience from last year’s youthful squad

Northern Michigan University’s Gaelin Hirabayashi, right, vies with Michigan Tech’s Leah Goldman for the ball during their women’s soccer game played at the NMU Soccer Field on Sept. 30. (Journal file photo by Trinity Carey)

“We’re very excited for the returning players because they understand each other a little bit more now and we have a team environment now.”

— Sonia Basma, head coach, NMU women’s soccer

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MARQUETTE — Last season was full of peaks and valleys for the Northern Michigan University women’s soccer team.

The Wildcats won their season opener over St. Cloud State and at one point, went four straight games without a loss. NMU was also 4-4-2 in its first 10 games, which was its best start since 2011.

Then things immediately went downhill as Northern lost nine straight contests to close the season.

Sonia Basma

There were still some statistical positives, such as Northern scoring 24 goals, almost doubling its total from the previous season.

Freshmen midfielder Caroline Halonen also put in nine goals and notched six assists for 24 points, each of those numbers being the highest for a Wildcat player since 2014. Not surprisingly, Halonen was named to the All-GLIAC Second Team.

Looking back on the year, NMU head coach Sonia Basma saw mostly good things despite her team’s 4-11-2 (1-8 GLIAC) record. She said that what she keeps in mind from last year was that the Wildcats were very young in 2018.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve got to note that we had eight new players that started for us last year, which is a huge amount for 11 on the field,” she said. “It’s just one of those things where it was new players and a fresh new system for them. It’s one of those things where it’s just going to come to us. I think at the beginning of the year, we had the excitement of going in together and playing and feeling out a new team.

“And then when we had some adversity here and there, one of the things for us to keep in mind is that we were a very young team.”

Northern Michigan University's Taelor Moore, bottom center, gets tangled up with an unidentified Michigan Tech player as the Wildcats' Andrea Sekloch, right, and the Huskies' Hannah Loughlin, left, look on during their nonconference game played Sept. 30 at the NMU Soccer Field. (Journal file photo by Ryan Stieg)

The good thing for Northern is that new blood got experience and they should be ready to go from the start. Caroline Halonen and Jenna Halonen are back as well as All-GLIAC honorable mention defender Gaelin Hirabayashi.

“We’re very excited for the returning players because they understand each other a little bit more now and we have a team environment now,” Basma said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve had really great individuals, but we managed to piece it together this past spring and get the girls to work together as a unit.

“I think that’s done us some favors. That’s what I’m excited for coming this fall, that collective effort. Yes, we do have the Halonens coming back and some key players, but it’s going to be about how we piece it together with everybody else.

“We have two great leaders coming back in (forward) Jamie (Montgomery) and Gaelin, two very mature athletes for us. One is a defender and the other is an attacker. I can’t even begin to tell you what they’ve done so far for our program.

“Jamie has been here quite awhile and even her first year here, she didn’t play because of an injury. But one of the reasons why our culture shifted so much, and it’s a work in progress, but I think it was because of those two. Especially in this past year, we’ve really come together as a group.”

Northern Michigan University's Aimee Colla, right, brings the ball upfield as Michigan Tech's Kassity Swanson defends during their nonconference game played Sept. 30 at the NMU Soccer Field. (Journal file photo by Ryan Stieg)

On the back end, Basma said again that was was a lot of youth on defense last fall, but she feels like that a year of experience will benefit them.

When it comes to the goalkeepers, Basma said veterans Brianna Frontuto and Allie Jones will be fighting for playing time.

“We have two keepers returning for us,” she said. “Brianna (Frontuto) has been really fantastic. She played a good amount for us and then we have Allie Jones, who is right behind her.

“But those two compete. They competed out at training and it’s a great environment because you just never know who is going to start for you and I’d like to keep it that way. I’m excited for those two.”

When looking at the schedule, NMU opens with back-to-back road games, which isn’t ideal. However, the schedule balances out with the Wildcats hosting four straight contests to close out October. In the GLIAC, Basma said it’s difficult to determine who will be Northern’s toughest foe just because the conference is that balanced.

Northern Michigan University sophomore forward Jenna Halonen, left, tries to deke around Minnesota Duluth's Erika Hjort during the second half of a game on Sept. 2. (Journal file photo by Ryan Stieg)

“That’s hard to say because if you look at a lot of our matches last year, we had a lot of close games, whether it be against Saginaw (Valley State) or Ferris (State), all of those were one-goal games,” she said. “(Michigan) Tech has always been traditionally a big rival for us. It’s hard to just pick out one team because the GLIAC is just getting that much better.”

Overall, though, Basma feels positive and confident with where her program is going.

“We’ve increased in terms of the shots we have going off this year,” she said. “We’ve decreased in goals conceded. Every year, if you look at the statistics since I’ve been here, it’s a tiny improvement, but nonetheless, it’s an improvement.

“For us, we’ll keep working until the goal we have in mind is reached, regardless of how long that takes. I’ve got a good group of athletes and a good group of people that are very committed and that’s the biggest thing. You can’t ask for more than that.

“We have a goal in mind and we have a vision and we’re going to keep working at it. That’s the best we can do.”

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