Upsets and struggles: Northern Michigan University Athletics highlights top performances, battles through adversity
MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University Athletics has unveiled three more of its 2019-20 Wildcat Awards.
Today’s awards are the Biggest Upset of the Year, Best Performance on the National Scene and the Brian Franks “Too Strong” Award.
A Friday story in The Mining Journal outlined the recipients of the Individual Performance of the Year — actually three of them — Record-Breaking Performance, Team Community Engagement and Most Influential and/or Supportive Faculty Member.
More awards will be shared over the next few days as they are being released on social media and at the NMU official athletics website, www.nmuwildcats.com.
Here are details from today’s featured awards:
Biggest Upset of the Year
The Northern men’s basketball team pulled off a huge upset when it defeated top-seeded and nationally No. 11-ranked Ferris State 70-69 on the Bulldogs’ home floor in Big Rapids in the quarterfinals of the GLIAC Tournament on March 3.
The win by the tourney’s No. 8 seeded team over No. 1 was so big it changed the venue for the semifinal and final rounds from Ferris to No. 2 Grand Valley State in Allendale. That’s because the top seeded team remaining after the quarterfinals hosted the final two rounds.
Seeking a berth in the GLIAC semis for the second straight year, NMU faced a 36-31 deficit at halftime before outscoring Ferris 39-33 after the break. Senior Sam Taylor of Chicago gave Northern a 59-57 lead with 7:23 to play for its first lead since 2-0 just 21 seconds into the game.
The Bulldogs, who entered the game at 27-5 overall and 16-4 in GLIAC league play, retook the lead with two minutes left before Wildcats sophomore Dolapo Olayinka of Chicago sank three free throws with 51 seconds left to put NMU up 66-65.
Olayinka added a layup and Taylor two free throws for a 70-66 advantage with 12 seconds remaining. While FSU hit a 3-pointer with 6 seconds to go and took a shot to win the game at the last second, that final shot missed to improve Northern to 13-16, which included a modest 9-11 conference mark.
The Wildcats traveled to Grand Valley four days later and were eliminated 64-53 by No. 4 seed Northwood in the semifinals.
Best Performance on the National Scene
A pair of athletes from the NMU National Training Site — formerly the NMU Olympic Training Site — won out with their performances for this award.
Freshman Greco-Roman wrestler Alston Nutter of Fennimore, Wisconsin, won the men’s award. Wrestling at 63 kilograms (138.9 pounds), he was facing Kamil Czarnecki of Poland in the bronze medal match on Aug. 17 in the Junior World Championships in Tallinn, Estonia.
Czarnecki led 6-0 before Nutter was able to throw and secure his win with a pin with 4:44 left.
Leading up to the medal match, he pinned Zaur Nuriyev of Azerbaijan, then outpointed Assaukhat Mukhamadiyev of Kazakhstan 5-2 before losing 9-0 in the semifinals to 2015 Cadet World silver medalist Abu Muslim Apitevitch of Russia. That put him in the third-place match.
Nutter was on the 2018 U.S. Junior Team, too, when he finished 27th. He qualified in five matches at the 2019 World Team Trials, none going past the first round, while he is also qualified for the as-yet-to-be-held Olympic Trials.
Senior weightlifter Taylor Turner of St. Augustine, Florida, won the NMU women’s award.
At 5-feet-2, Turner is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. at 59 kg (130.1 lbs.). She won the American Open Finals in early December in Salt Lake City with top lifts of 92 kg (202.8 lbs.) in the snatch and 111 kg (244.7 lbs.) in the clean and jerk for 203 kg (447.5 lbs.) total, each winning her gold medals.
That performance qualified her for the World team, though she was unable to attend, and also for the upcoming Senior Pan American team.
She also competed during October in Switzerland at the Challenge 210 competition and finished second overall and first in the clean and jerk with numbers similar to the American Open — 91 kg in snatch, 111 kg in clean and jerk and 202 kg total.
Brian Franks “Too Strong” Award
This award, named for the late Brian Franks of Escanaba, a 1980s NMU football player, was inspired by his battle with cancer that took his life on Feb. 21, 2018.
Current Wildcats Nick Metcalfe and Rachel Helm are recipients of this year’s award.
Metcalfe, a senior from downstate Royal Oak, was a key player on the Northern men’s soccer team before a concussion cost him the final four games of the fall 2018 season.
The concussion turned more serious when he started to get a high fever, along with chills and cold sweats, before he lost a notice
He spent 10 days in ICU and two weeks in the hospital as he lost close to 50 pounds. Released shortly before Thanksgiving, he continued with an IV of antibiotics into January 2019 and also went into physical therapy to rebuild enough strength to be able to walk again due to the lost weight.
He rejoined his Wildcats’ team for his senior season last fall.
Helm, a senior swimmer from Newcastle, England, has won a pair of NCAA Division II national championships, multiple conference titles and was named GLIAC Female Swimmer of the Year the past two seasons.
But this year, she dealt with a torn labrum and rotator cuff. That developed into a sac of fluid that meant her shoulder wouldn’t remain in place, and as a result she had a dozen dislocations that kept her out of the pool often during the season. Instead, she was just as often in the training room, but with the help of NMU athletic trainers, coaches and teammates, she was cleared to compete in the GLIAC meet and successfully defended two of her titles.
Franks was an All-Upper Peninsula Dream Team and all-state offensive lineman and became a leader for NMU’s offense that became the No. 1 team in the nation in 1987.
In 2009, Franks was diagnosed with cancer and began his nine-year battle, enduring several major surgeries, years of chemotherapy and countless efforts with experimental procedures and medications.
He was cited as an amazing father, devoted husband and special friend while continuing to be highly successful in business, all despite the hardships he faced.
He is remembered for always sharing a smile or joke and being upbeat and more concerned about his wife Ann; children Zach, Abby and Grace; parents; brothers; and even goofy Wildcat friends than he was about himself.
He was known for simply being “too strong” to let anything prevent him from being the man he intended to be and make those around him better by his presence.
At his funeral memorial, a card that included a photo of a smiling Brian included two appropriate quotations.
The first was from late great North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who inspired the V Foundation: “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”
The other was from the late ESPN announcer Stuart Scott, who showed grace in his cancer battle, too: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer, you beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner which you live.”
Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.