End of an era at Northern Michigan University: Westwood, NMU graduate Troy Mattson stepping down as Wildcats’ women’s basketball head coach after 17 years

Northern Michigan University head coach Troy Mattson yells instructions during the Wildcats' GLIAC game against Wayne State at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Jan. 4, 2020. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“For over 55 years, it has been my home and truthfully the only place I have ever wanted to be. Second only to my family, NMU has been the most important aspect of my life.”

— Troy Mattson, retiring women’s basketball head coach, about Northern Michigan University


MARQUETTE — This will truly be the end of an era in Northern Michigan University athletics when longtime women’s basketball head coach Troy Mattson retires in June.

That’s the announcement he made Wednesday after leading that particular program for 17 years as he has been involved in NMU athletics for nearly four decades.

The head man with the women’s program, where he compiled a 240-231 record, was just his latest in a number of jobs related to Wildcats sports for this graduate in 1981 from Westwood High School and in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree and 1992 with a master’s degree from Northern.

Northern Michigan University women's basketball head coach Troy Mattson signals instructions to the Wildcats in the first quarter of their GLIAC game played against Northwood at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Jan. 29. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

He was born in Milwaukee and also grew up in the Ishpeming area.

Mattson, one of the 10 original finalists when Michigan’s Mr. Basketball Award was inaugurated in ’81, was associate head coach of the NMU men’s basketball program from 1994 to 2005 and had been part of that coaching staff dating back to 1988.

A point guard with the Wildcat men’s hoops team from 1982-85, Mattson even guided the NMU women’s tennis team from 1994-2003.

“I had the unique experience of coaching three different programs while at NMU,” Mattson said in a statement released via email Wednesday. “All three were different in nature, but they shared one common theme. At the time, they all had to be built from the bottom up.

“All three programs were struggling and through the incredible hours of recruiting and hard work by coaches, players and support staff, we were able to raise all three programs to conference and national prominence. All of this took years and years of persistence and vision.”

Northern Michigan University women's basketball head coach Troy Mattson signals instructions to the Wildcats during the third quarter of a GLIAC game played against Northwood at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Jan. 29. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The longtime coach was appreciative of the chances he had at NMU.

“I would like to thank Northern Michigan University, Marquette and the surrounding area,” he said. “For over 55 years, it has been my home and truthfully the only place I have ever wanted to be.

“Second only to my family, NMU has been the most important aspect of my life.”

He said his time as a Wildcat has left him feeling fortunate to all who believed in him.

“It is not often that someone has the opportunity to be a student-athlete at their local university and then get to retire from that same institution after 34 years of service,” Mattson said. “I have been truly fortunate for the many people who believed in my abilities as a player and as a coach, and I am greatly appreciative of them all.

“Over the past 34 years, I have had the opportunity to coach some amazing student-athletes. To see them grow as people and go out into the world and be incredible parents, successful people in their professional life and to be great ambassadors to NMU is probably the most inspirational aspect of my job.

“I always say to myself, ‘If you can learn one thing from every person you meet, whether good or bad, it will pay great dividends in life.’ To all the student-athletes I have coached over the years, ‘I hope you learned something!'”

Mattson took the women’s basketball head coaching job in 2005 and ranks second all-time in wins with the program, which includes three seasons of at least 22 victories.

His teams made three NCAA Division II national tournament appearances, in 2010, 2014 and 2019, and qualified for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament for the last 11 years.

“Troy made everyone around him better and I am grateful for our time working together,” NMU Director of Athletics Forrest Karr said in the NMU email. “He is organized, detail oriented, well respected in the basketball community and cares deeply about student-athletes. These qualities led to incredibly consistent success coaching three different NMU teams.

“Troy is leaving the women’s basketball program in a great place, with a strong culture and a talented group of returning student-athletes.”

Among his coaching highlights with the women’s basketball team was the 2018-19 season, when the Wildcats defeated No. 4 nationally ranked Ashland in the first round of the NCAA Division II regional tourney, holding the Eagles to their lowest point total of the season.

Those Wildcats also defeated nationally ranked Grand Valley State University twice during the season, the first win coming at the Berry Events Center in Marquette with Northern giving No. 9 GVSU its only GLIAC loss of the regular season. The second win that season came in the conference tournament when Mattson’s squad overcame an early 11-0 deficit to defeat the No. 7-ranked Lakers in Allendale to advance to the GLIAC championship game.

Another special season was 2013-14, when Mattson guided the team to the GLIAC Tournament title and NCAA tourney berth.

Lauren Gruber was named the GLIAC Tournament MVP for averaging a double-double — 13 points and 10 rebounds — over three playoff games. She was also tabbed to the All-GLIAC Second and Defensive teams.

Teammate Alyssa Colla was named to the Daktronics All-Midwest Region Second Team, All-GLIAC First Team, and All-GLIAC Defensive Team. NMU finished the year 22-8 overall and 16-6 in the GLIAC.

The other Wildcats’ NCAA appearance was also part of a memorable season. In 2009-10, NMU finished 22-10 overall and again 16-6 in the GLIAC, placing second in the North Division.

The Wildcats qualified for the NCAA tourney and advanced to the semifinals of the Midwest Regional by defeating No. 5 nationally ranked Indianapolis, 52-51. That team also advanced to the GLIAC Tournament championship game before bowing out to Michigan Tech.

Over his tenure, Mattson has coached nine 1,000-point scorers — Colla, Gruber, Allison Carroll, Kelsey Deacon, Jessica Schultz, Darby Youngstrom, Steffani Stoeger, Bre Gaspervich and current player Makaylee Kuhn.

Colla, the third-highest scorer in program history with 1,567 points, also earned the GLIAC Commissioner’s Award in 2015.

In his decade with the Wildcats’ women’s tennis team, he earned Midwest Region Coach of the Year in 2002 and GLIAC Coach of the Year accolades in 2000 and 2002. His teams made three straight NCAA Division II Tournament appearances from 2001-03.

He began his coaching career at Munising High School, where he was the boys basketball coach during the 1985-86 season, then began his collegiate career as assistant men’s and women’s basketball coach at Lake Superior State University from 1986-88.

This four-time letterwinner in NMU men’s basketball was the 10th player in program history to reach 1,000 points, ending with 1,018. He’s also third in career assists with 486 and tied for third in single-season assists with 187. In his final two years, the Wildcats reached the NCAA Division II Tournament.

“As I look back at my time as a player, I realize now that it gave me an opportunity, one that I did not realize at the time,” Mattson said. “It gave me a chance for an education and for who I could become.

“Even though we had great success while I played here, the most successful aspect of that time is the friendships and relationships that we formed as teammates and coaches that will last a lifetime.”

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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