One step at a time
NMU lacrosse progresses in its third season
By RYAN STIEG
Journal Sports Writer
MARQUETTE — It’s not easy to build an athletic program from scratch.
Typically, a team struggles from the start and it takes a few years for it to find its footing. The Northern Michigan University women’s lacrosse began the same way, but in its third year, the Wildcats took a big step forward.
After earning two victories in its first season, NMU notched its first GLIAC win in its second year. This year, the Wildcats put four games in the win column with one of them being their first GLIAC road victory. That may not seem like much, but Northern also earned its first-ever GLIAC Tournament bid after an impressive home win over Ashland in the regular season finale.
“It was a great building point for where we want to go in the future,” Wildcats head coach Emilia Ward said. “I think we exceeded some of our expectations and we set a lot of program records. So overall, I think it was a great step forward.”
NMU faced McKendree (Illinois) in the GLIAC Tournament, a team the Wildcats lost badly to in March on the road. This time around, Northern had to fight through two weather delays, one lasting five hours, but still put up a good fight before eventually falling in the end, 26-10. Ward said she was happy with her team’s efforts as it performed well, but the Bearcats’ experience is what put helped put them over the top.
“We were super pleased,” she said. “Our last time out against them, we felt we really didn’t put our best effort forward and we kind of gave them an easy game. This time I thought we really made them play.
“Their seniors, every time we made a run, just really stepped up and took charge of the game. I think that’s where that experience level comes in. But now, the girls have played a tournament game, and that experience, going forward, will be great for us.”
When asked about the weather delays and if that helped play a role in the loss, Ward felt that it didn’t because the Wildcats came out hot offensively after both delays.
“Overall, I don’t think it had too much of an effect,” she said. “I think both teams were in the same boat. We reacted really well coming out of the gate after both delays. I think for a young team, that was phenomenal. We definitely made little runs at both points and we definitely put those delays behind us.”
Looking to next season, the Wildcats return almost all of their lineup including All-GLIAC Honorable Mention honoree Graison Ringlever, who became the first player in program history to reach 100 career goals and 100 career points. She also led the team this year in goals with 42 and points with 49, both school records.
“Obviously, we’ll return Graison and there’s nothing like returning a three-year starting midfielder,” Ward said. “She’s definitely an all-conference-caliber player and we always know what we’re going to get out of her.
“Some of our freshmen really showed a lot like Emily (Renfrew), Jess (Daniels) and (Aleya) Speas have just had phenomenal seasons. We closed it out really well and we’ve got some really good young players on our defensive end.
“(Goalkeeper) Cam (Stilson) led the conference in saves and that’s not an easy thing to do. I think we’re really set up well for the future.”
Ward also likes next year’s recruiting class and said the program wants to continue to climb the GLIAC standings in 2020.
“This is probably our best recruiting class we’ve had coming in and we’re definitely looking forward to them filling in any holes that we might have in our starting lineup, and also just making us a lot deeper,” she said. “They add a lot of size to our lineup, which in our conference is super important.
“Our base goal is to make the conference tournament. Our other goal is to get over the Concordia (St. Paul) and Davenport hump and really start to try to battle Grand Valley (State).
“We know we have to get over those two teams first and that’s our first target point, trying to attack that second and third spot.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.