Falling short of hopes
MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team came into this season after winning the 2014 GLIAC Tournament and earning an NCAA Tournament bid a year ago.
With a talented senior class coming back, team expectations were high back in November. However, injuries plagued the team throughout the season and the Wildcats fell to rival Michigan Tech to miss out on a chance at a GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal home berth.
The squad then lost to Grand Valley State in the postseason.
“Injuries happened to us late in the year and we just didn’t have the depth,” Mattson said. “I knew that depth was going to be an issue this season. Trying to remain healthy this year was going to be a major issue.
“For the most part, I thought we were very resilient. We suffered injuries to Alyssa (Colla), Abbey (DeBruin) and Courtney (Lemon), three of our top players.
“We fought through it and actually played quite well through that stretch.
“Then it just got to the point where Abbey went down with an ACL in the last game and we just didn’t have enough, to tell you the truth, to continue to play at the level that we needed to play at,” he added.
Mattson said the seniors were a vital part of the program and he enjoyed coaching them.
“They’re very good people and class individuals,” Mattson said. “They represented our program and our athletic department to the highest standards, not only on the court, but also out in the classroom, in the community and in other academic areas.
“It’s been a joy to work with them every single day and they will be sorely missed.”
One of those seniors is DeBruin, who was disappointed with how the season ended. But she was also proud of the fact her class helped build the program into a conference contender.
“It’s really a tough way to end your career, especially after having a taste of making the tournament the previous year,” she said.
“I think everybody had the talent and the ability to get back to that point, so it’s disappointing to not make it there. It shows the younger girls on the team that nothing is guaranteed, and you have to go out there and earn everything.
“I’m definitely proud of what the other seniors and I have been able to do,” DeBruin added. “We kind of came in and had to work hard and got to play right away.
“I think we learned a lot right away and we helped build up the program a little bit and build some success.
“Obviously, we wish it had ended better, but the younger girls have a good base and they can keep building it.”
Looking toward next season, Mattson likes his group of incoming recruits and is expecting this year’s redshirt freshmen to step up in a big way.
“We signed three very good players coming in and I’m looking to sign a fourth soon,” the coach said.
“So we’ll probably have eight new faces stepping out on the court next season and hopefully, they can learn quickly and help get our basketball program back to where it needs to be.
“We’ve lost a lot in our backcourt, obviously, with Alyssa and Lauren, and Abbey is considered a frontcourt and backcourt player. So we brought in three guards that are athletic and very talented. There are some bigger guards (coming) in as well,” Mattson said.
Two of them are Haley Kershner of Rockton, Illinois, and Emily Schramek of Naperville, Illinois.
“A lot of teams have 6-foot (tall) centers and we have 6-foot guards,” he said. “So we like the athleticism and size we are bringing in and we have a 6-foot-5 center – one of the best players in Wisconsin – to help bolster our frontline.”
The 6-5 center is Taylor Hodell of Wausau, Wisconsin.
“We redshirted four girls that potentially could’ve helped us … but we made that choice to help them and help our program in the long run,” Mattson said
“They all need to be contributors and that will depend on them and the work they put in over the summer.”
Three of them are Chloe Tompkins, Darby Youngstrom and Tess Weatherly.
“We’re looking at them to be leaders early on in their career and be big people in our program right away. The redshirting has helped them out a lot and hopefully, they’ll be more prepared (than) true freshmen.”
Youngstrom said she is looking forward to being a vital cog in the program.
“I think we’re ready,” she said. “We had great role models with the seniors this year. I know we definitely learned a lot from them. We know we have high expectations, but we’re ready for it.
“I think people are going to underestimate us a lot. We want to get back into the (NCAA) tournament and I think we’re going to surprise people.”
Junior Kendall Martenet transferred this year from the University of New Hampshire and agreed with her teammate’s assessment.
“We’re going to try to do the best we can,” she said. “I think after losing the seniors, it’ll be different. But I think we can do well.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.