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Play a full season: Northern Michigan University women’s lacrosse team looks to improve this spring after opening loss

Northern Michigan University goalie Cam Stilson is unable to stop a shot by Indianapolis as the Wildcats’ Ava Engler looks on from behind the net in their GLIAC lacrosse game played at the Superior Dome in Marquette on April 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — Last spring, the Northern Michigan University women’s lacrosse team was all set for its season and started with a solid 2-3 record.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic sprung its ugly head, prompting the cancellation of the remainder of the 2020 season.

Now after a year layoff, the Wildcats have taken the turf again. In fact, their home opener was last weekend, which resulted in a 23-2 blowout loss to NCAA Division II No. 2 Lindenwood (Missouri).

Even though that defeat may not have been fun to go through, NMU head coach Lindsey LeMay found a benefit in taking on a powerhouse like the Lions.

“What’s hard about when you play a team like Lindenwood that is ranked what they are, which is No. 2 in the nation, you kind of know going into it the way it’s going to turn out because when you play a lacrosse game and you’re a little bit mismatched, you’re probably gonna lose by 20,” she said in a Zoom interview on Monday. “But ultimately I knew that going into it, but I didn’t reschedule that game, I wanted Lindenwood to come play us because I think it’s important for a team that more than half of my kids have not played more than five collegiate games because last year, we got canceled in the middle of our season because of COVID.

Northern Michigan University's Emily Renfrew, right, and Indianapolis' Peyton Romig vie for control of the ball during a faceoff in their GLIAC lacrosse game played at the Superior Dome in Marquette on April 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“So I think it was important to kind of have a humbling moment where they realize what college lacrosse is like, because just because you’re very, very good on our team and you’re very good in high school, it doesn’t always translate and Lindenwood is just very good. They are a superpower at the D-II level and I think it was important moving into GLIAC play … (that) we have some very powerful people in our conference and to prepare for (preseason favorite) Grand Valley (State), you kind of need to have the shock factor before you play them.”

This will mark LeMay’s first full season with the Wildcats, as she took over from Emilia Ward in August 2019.

During the lengthy offseason, LeMay said her team focused on just getting in game shape and getting tougher as a team.

“Our main thing has been fitness level and toughness just because we are still a building program and we still don’t have the roster size that’s ideal to run the type of high-pressure defense that I want to do,” she said. “We’d really just focused on running so that in games, they can do the high-pressure thing that I want them to do and not die.

“But also, we’ve spent a lot of time working on toughness, because obviously that goes hand-in-hand when you’re spending your entire preseason running, it can be very tough, but I think a lot of them really stepped up to that challenge and they’ve really bought into what I’m doing, which I structure our entire program around the idea that if you’re tough and athletic and you can outpace a team, you’re going to be in every game.

Lindsey LeMay

“At least statistically, if not in goals obviously going off of last weekend, but I do think with a roster with 10 less people than Lindenwood, we still physically hung with them the way I wanted to, which means our preseason of lots of running was effective.”

When asked if there are any players that stand out to her so far, LeMay named three, each fulfilling different roles on the team.

“I’m really excited about Emily Renfrew, she’s a junior, but technically, she’s a sophomore because everyone got their year of eligibility back (from) last year,” the coach said. “She’s really the voice of our offense this year and she does a good job directing the younger kids that haven’t had that sort of college experience.

“She had some good plays even in the Lindenwood game. We didn’t really get the follow-through and a lot of our shot placement was questionable, but the play set up before that was very good and it definitely is based around what Emily does and how she moves the chess pieces of her teammates around.

“Also, our starting goalie Cam Stilson is very good and she’s confident. I’m excited about her. This is a hard way to open up for a goalie, but just seeing her be able to shake off what was happening and still be able to make calm, intelligent choices on the clears … when you’re passing after you saved a goal. In that sort of pressure situation, she handled it really well and I think that was really reassuring and it’s going to show a lot this year that she can handle tough games.

Northern Michigan University's Emily Renfrew, left, breaks toward the goal as Indianapolis' Riley McClure defends in the first half of their GLIAC lacrosse game played at the Superior Dome in Marquette on April 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“And then one more kid is we have one just superstar athlete on our team, she’s a little raw when it comes to lacrosse skill, but Lauryn Rygiel is, when you see that kid run, you know that like by the time she’s a senior, she’s going to be an amazing threat and it’s just going to be really cool to see her develop as a player, because even though she’s played a lot of lacrosse, it’s all very raw. So I kind of get to make her into the type of lacrosse player I want to because there’s such a good athletic base there. It’s really cool to see.”

Northern is on the road for its next four matches, starting with a bout at Quincy, Illinois, on Sunday. The Wildcats return home on March 26 for the first game of a two-game series with Concordia-St. Paul in the Superior Dome.

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

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