Inside NMU Athletics Women's Basketball Preview

Joe DexterContributor INovember 3, 2009

MARQUETTE – When Troy Mattson took over the NMU Women’s Basketball program for the 2005-06 season, a lot of work needed to be done. After three straight losing seasons and a 24-54 record, The Lady Wildcats bounced back to post a 14-14 record last season. After a GLIAC Tournament appearance that included a close loss to the now #1 team in the nation-Michigan Tech, this squad looks ready to turn the corner.

Despite the loss of it’s best play maker.

Kelsey Deacon, who was named to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) North Division All-Conference Second Team last season, led the 2008-09 Wildcats in shots, minutes played, points per game and assists per game. Her offense will surely be missed. Head coach Troy Mattson understands the loss. He believes the key will be to implement his new recruits quickly while also moving the ball around more on offense.

“Kelsey took 20 shots a game for us,” said coach Mattson.”It will be spread around a bit more. We have Elicia Derusha coming in from University of Wisconsin Green Bay. She is going to be a fantastic player for us. Mariah Dunham was a starter at Wisconsin for three years and averaged double figures in the Big Ten.

“She is going to eat up all that stuff that Kelsey did for us offensively,” he added. “Mariah is a 6′1″ guard that can go in the post and do many things. She will take on a big burden of our scoring. On the perimeter, everyone is going to get a few more shots. That’s how you have to go about it.”

Dunham, who transfers in with one year of eligibility left, leaves the Wisconsin Badgers after being dismissed last Febuary by head coach Lisa Stone.  Dunham had played in 20 games last season, with 13 starts. At the time of dismissal, She was second on the team in scoring (9.2 ppg) and rebounds (4.6 rpg). Of those twenty games, Dunham threw down a double double in 11 contests.

Coach Troy Mattson was one of the first to contact Dunham after her dismissal and it paid off. Though her first choice was University of Wisconsin Green Bay, Dunham settled on Northern after things fell through closer to home. When she visited the campus and saw her now teammates competing in practice, she was sold on coming back to an area she was familiar with. Coach Troy Mattson’s passion was another seller. There is no doubt that the head coach understands what he is getting on the court with his new Wisconsin standout.

“Mariah Dunham is a proven player in the big ten,” stated coach Mattson. “We cannot get a better player than that. She is going to be one of the if not the premiere player in the country. She has that much talent, that much ability on the offensive end.”

Though Derusha and Dunham will be key parts of this 2009 squad, a slew of veterans return from last year’s squad that will be integral in their success.  Jacyln Davey, Holly Cole, Christa Erickson, Kellie Rietveld, Brynn Larsen, Angie Lexson and Erin Powers all return to key roles this season. Powers, Lexson, and Davey will be counted on down low to play solid defense and pull down rebounds. Rietveld, Erickson, Cole and Larsen will be key parts of the perimeter offense and defense. Head coach Troy Mattson though is very impressed with his depth this season. Something that was key in the success of the Wildcats last year on the court.

“It’s incredible, we have seventeen girls on the team right now,” said coach Mattson. “I would feel putting them all of them in for certain situations. It is important, it is a long season, injuries are going to play a part in everybody’s program, and you have to be able to fill in those spots. I think we can do that.

“We have great depth,” added Mattson. “Especially around the perimeter. I’m really happy with the way the program has shaped up the last few years, now we just have to put ourselves in a position to make a strong move.”

The season opens up for the Lady ‘Cats on the road against four non-conference foes. NMU will travel to Northland College, Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin Parkside, and Finlandia to open the season. Coach Troy Mattson’s squad went 4-9 on the road last season, but he feels that this team competes better when away from the Berry Event Center.

“I feel very comfortable with our team playing on the road, we get extra practice in their gyms,” said Mattson. “We get a lot closer, truthfully we have done an incredible job on the road keeping ourselves in games. The last few years I have felt like we have actually played better on the road. I don’t think it’s going to hurt us at all, as long as we make sure we are rested when we get back.”

Without a doubt the competition will be tough in the GLIAC North Division. The Wildcats open up the home schedule on December 3rd when they open up against conference foe Northwood. A team that came out of nowhere last season to win 16 conference games. The true test continues the next weekend on December 12th when the Wildcats take on No. 1 Michigan Tech. The Wildcats will host twelve home games, including the final game of the season against the Saginaw Valley State Lady Cardinals.

The Women’s basketball program will now look to make the next step toward being a successful program year in and year out. Coach Troy Mattson believes his veterans on this team know what the next step is. The only question is if this team will be willing to take that step to the next level.

“Our junior and senior class have learned to be winners and great leaders,” said Mattson.  “The players understand what has to happen in this program. Now we just have to go out and do it.”