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Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team returns home after tough road trip

Northern Michigan University’s Erin Honkala takes a shot against Concordia on Nov. 24 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

MARQUETTE — When most people head out of town for Thanksgiving, they’re kind of disappointed when they have to return home and get back to their regular routines.

However, for Northern Michigan University head women’s basketball coach Troy Mattson, it’s a relief as his team went to Springfield, Missouri, and the Drury Thanksgiving Tournament.

The last time the Wildcats (3-5) were in Springfield, they upset four-time GLIAC tournament champion Ashland in the first round in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

This time around wasn’t nearly as pleasant, though, for NMU as it lost to Truman State followed by a blowout defeat at the hands of national No. 1 Drury.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the ‘Cats had to deal with the big storm that hit the Upper Peninsula on the trip home, so Mattson was happy just to get back to campus.

“We made it home safe,” he said Tuesday. “That’s pretty much what happened (on the trip). It was a grueling trip and it wasn’t easy. Major delays, missed flights, busing.

“We didn’t play well the first night. We were a step or two behind on everything that they tried to do, but I do give the girls credit against Drury.

“Without Lexi (Smith) or Liz (Lutz) playing, we played hard. That was the first step that we needed to do because we weren’t able to play hard the first night. But we played really hard the second night.

“That’s what we got out of the trip. We’ve got a long way to go and we’ve got some things that we’ve got to figure out here in the next couple of days.

“As I look at it, we’re 0-0 starting conference play, so it’s a fresh start. It’s like three seasons. You’ve got your nonconference season, you’ve got your regular season in conference and you’ve got your playoffs if you’re good enough to get in.

“We’re in the second phase. I played a very demanding, very tough nonconference schedule to prepare ourselves for the GLIAC, and hopefully we learned a lot these last eight games.”

If there was a positive to came out of the trip, it was the play of senior Erin Honkala, who continued her strong start to the season by leading the Wildcats in scoring Friday and sharing scoring honors Saturday.

“Erin has had about seven or eight really good games,” Mattson said. “She really has stepped up, mostly with her attitude and how she approaches everything.

“She’s competing extremely hard, rebounding everything, scoring points for us. She’s played extremely well and I’m really happy for her. She’s kind of leading the way for us right now and we need more people to play at the level she’s playing at.”

That’ll definitely be the case Thursday when Northern opens GLIAC play with a home game against Northwood, and following that a contest against Saginaw Valley State on Saturday. The good thing for the Wildcats is that Northwood is struggling right now at 1-6, especially on defense, but Mattson is still expecting a tough battle from the Timberwolves.

“They’re going to be tough and they’re going to be physical with us,” he said. “They weren’t healthy either for about six or seven games. They’ve got everybody back that they’re supposed to have back now.”

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

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