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NMU lacrosse team ready for big battle: Wildcats will take on Davenport in GLIAC tourney

Northern Michigan University's Tess Kostelec, front right, celebrates her goal with teammate Aleya Speas, who picked up an assist on the play, during the second half of their GLIAC lacrosse game played Sunday, April 18, 2021, at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)
Northern Michigan University's Kaitlyn Bridger, left, weaves past Grand Valley State's Maggie Hammer and toward the Lakers' net to score a goal during the first half of their GLIAC lacrosse game played Sunday, April 18, 2021, at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

MARQUETTE — Going into last weekend, Northern Michigan University head women’s lacrosse coach Lindsey LeMay said she was hoping for another chance at Davenport and now, she’s gotten her wish.

The Wildcats will get another crack at the Panthers as NMU will face them in the GLIAC Tournament semifinals Friday night after getting swept by them two weeks ago. On Tuesday, LeMay talked about how happy she was that the ‘Cats will have an opportunity to redeem themselves.

“It definitely is the one that I wanted,” she said. “I think that we know them the best now given that they’re the team we played the most recently and we have a three-goal chip on our shoulder because we did lose them two times in a row and we came in thinking we were a little bit closer to them than maybe is the reality. So it is an uphill battle, but I think we’re set up for the most excitement possible with it being Davenport. The team’s very motivated.”

LeMay said what sets the Panthers apart compared to some of the other programs Northern has played is that they’re more aggressive and they made that clear the last time the two teams tangled.

“They have a kind of different energy than a lot of teams,” she said. “They have like an angry, ball-hungriness that I think is unique to that university’s athletics. Like the way they play sports is that they want to beat you to every 50/50 ball and beat you with aggression and I think their lacrosse team is a really good example of that. And that’s something we’ve struggled with in particular is that we’re very nice and sometimes when teams come in very aggressive, it catches us a little bit off guard. They also have some very quality true lacrosse players that can do a lot of damage on attack. So we need to perform very well defensively to shut some of their people down that they have.”

LeMay said she liked what she’s seen out of her team during practice and added that she’s changing things up defensively for the rematch with Davenport.

“I’ve seen a lot more focus than I saw out of them the week before we played Davenport in regular season and I think a lot of that is just them knowing that to be able to have a competitive chance in this game, they need to show up and be their absolute best. So I think that’s really exciting I’ve seen that. We’re changing the defense we’re doing, so we’re running a zone defense to try to change something and have a little bit more protection in the middle. So that gives us something to really focus on. I think they needed something to buy into for this last game and I’ve given them that in a zone defense that’s a little complicated. So it’ll be fun to see.”

To upset the Panthers and move on to the conference finals, the Wildcats are gonna need some of their other players to step up offensively and some of them have shown that they could be up to the task.

“We’re gonna need to see a lot more out of our midfielders than we’ve seen this entire season,” LeMay said. “We’ve seen some out of Katelyn Mongold, but definitely we need more out of Katelyn, Lauryn Rygiel and Aleya Speas just because Kaitlyn Bridger is now hurt. Minnie (Bittell) might not play this weekend and then Emily (Renfrew) has been hurt on and off, so I think we just really need to start relying on our mid-level kids that have kind of hidden and just played a lot of defense and not contributed a ton on offense. It’s time for them to try to score.”

LeMay also said that she’s changing things up in net as Aliyah Smukala will start as goalie instead of typical starter Cam Stilson. However, depending on how things go, Stilson could still see some time on the field.

“Going into this weekend, I think just the energy that Aliyah brought, she, I think, is gonna set us up for the best pace change,” LeMay said. “So I think we’re gonna start with Aliyah. I don’t know where we’re gonna go after that, but I think the first half going into that game, it’s gonna be important to kind of have the energy that she brings instead of the calmness that Cam brings. Even though I think they’re both very good at what they do, they do kind of play in opposite ways and I think we need the energy.

LeMay knows getting past the Panthers isn’t going to be easy, but she thinks that her team knows what it needs to do and it’s ready to go.

“I feel like we’re more prepared than we were last time,” she said. “We are shorter mids (midfielders) than we were last time. We have three more injuries than we did last time, so we ‘re pretty thin, but I think that they have a much more serious mindset about what they need to do and how they need to practice for the rest of the week to be competitive.”

Northern takes on Davenport at 7 p.m. Friday at Grand Valley State. If the Wildcats win, they’ll play either GVS or Ashland in the championship match Sunday.

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

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