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Northern Michigan University Wildcats finish off best women’s lacrosse season in program history

Northern Michigan University’s Kaitlyn Bridger, left, weaves around Grand Valley State’s Maggie Hammer to score a goal during their GLIAC lacrosse game played April 18 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University women’s lacrosse team may not have a long legacy as a varsity sport at the university, but it definitely made some history this spring.

The Wildcats finished 6-8 overall and 4-4 in the GLIAC, relatively modest numbers on the surface. However, this is the first time NMU has reached six wins in a season and they finished with the third seed in the conference tournament. In a normal year, they probably would’ve hosted a tournament game, too.

The varsity program dates back to 2017, meaning 2021 was the fourth full season as 2020 was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Northern’s season ended last Friday in a 17-7 loss to Davenport in a tourney semifinal played at Grand Valley State. The Wildcats kept it close in the first half, trailing by only two goals at the break, but a quick surge by the Panthers in the second half created a gap that was too much for NMU to overcome.

Looking back on that loss, Wildcats head coach Lindsey LeMay said that the game just got away from them in the second half and they couldn’t get anything going offensively.

Northern Michigan University's Kaitlyn Bridger, center, scores a goal during the first half of a GLIAC lacrosse game played against Grand Valley State on April 18 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“I think it went much better than the other two times that we played Davenport,” she said in a Monday Zoom interview. “So that was good. But I think ultimately, we had played a really good first half, but going into the end of the first half, we allowed two goals in the last 40 seconds … and at that point, I saw the decline coming.

“We didn’t have the legs to keep up with them for the rest of the game. We just couldn’t score in the second half. It was frustrating.”

NMU may have not moved forward as a team in the conference tournament, but it did pick up some nice individual honors. First, redshirt freshman midfielders Lauryn Rygiel and Minnie Bittell both made the GLIAC First Team, which didn’t surprise LeMay.

“The First Team kids really stood out in the conference,” she said. “It was very easy to see that they were going to be recognized because they’re also just very tall humans, so they’re people that coaches remember.

“Lauren has all our caused turnover stats and she has all of our ground ball stats. She’s also just faster than everyone, so you remember her.

“And then Minnie, she just is so good at the draw and her draw stats this year were incredible. I don’t think she got First Team on that alone. She’s our second-leading scorer and she just had a really good season.

“Those two are just redshirt freshmen, so they have a lot more time to keep getting better. They had a really good show.”

Rygiel and Bittell weren’t the only honorees, though, as sophomore Emily Renfrew, freshman Katelyn Mongold and sophomore goalie Cam Stilson earned spots on the Second Team.

“Our goalie got Second Team and that was really exciting,” LeMay said about Stilson. “Her stats are difficult because we did have so many high-scoring games where we lost, but she does have one of the best stats save-wise in the conference. So I’m glad she got recognized.

“I think it’ll give her some confidence moving into next year. Those two goalies that we have are neck-and-neck, so I think they each need to come in next year very confident, so they can kind of battle for that position.

“Emily had a great season. I’m glad she made Second Team all-attack. The scoring in our conference this year, the stats for Davenport and Grand Valley were different this year. They had all the leading scorers in the conference points-wise and outdid Emily, but she still had such a good show, especially early in the season.

“She had an injury in the first CSP (Concordia-St. Paul) game that made her a little bit hesitant to do what she’d been doing early in the season and going into traffic and getting smashed, because she has, like, a severe sternum contusion. But she still had a great year.

“And then Kate is also a redshirt freshman. She had a great year and I’m really glad she got recognized. She came in with not a lot of traditional lacrosse experience last year.

“She’s very much a basketball kid and I think it’s really cool to see her grow and I think she’s just going to continue to be a really big threat on the field because when she wants to, she can go score at any time.

“And I think, just the more that I can reinforce that, the better she’s going to keep getting.”

When asked what she would remember most about a year that has had its ups and downs, LeMay said it was the bonds her squad made from the offseason going into this spring.

“The attitude the kids had this year of just treating every game and every practice like it could be their last, I think was really cool to see this year,” the coach said. “And it really also made the fact that, yeah, this was the best season that Northern Michigan lacrosse ever has had, it made it that much sweeter because every single moment, they were like ‘We better appreciate this because last year we were on a bus in Green Bay and we had to turn around and we didn’t see each other for a year.’ So I think this year it’s just really cool to see that, how much they care about the sport and how much they care about each other.

“I’ve seen a lot more improvement from all of them than I thought just because they’ve been so excited to practice and do their sport, especially even the freshmen coming in because they didn’t get their (high school) senior season at all. So just to see that kind of passion for the sport has been really cool and that’s something I want to carry into next year because these kids have still been affected.

“We have 15 freshmen coming in next year and they’ve all been affected. They either lost their junior year, or they’re now playing a partial senior year. So just to come in and have that energy of ‘This is college lacrosse and, yeah, it’s different, but you finally get to do the thing you love as a major part of your life.’

“So I think that mindset that we had this year, it was really cool and I think it contributed to what is the best year of Northern Michigan lacrosse.”

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

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