MARQUETTE, Mich. – In a season full of injuries, the Northern Michigan University Women's Basketball team demonstrated how to handle adversity and reached their seventh-straight Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference appearance.
In total, the Wildcats lost at least 66 games due to injury to key players but continued to persevere and closed the year by winning five of their last six games to achieve another 15-win season and their fourth in the past five years.
Pacing the team this year was GLIAC Freshman of the Year Lexi Smith (St. Germain, Wis./Northland Pines). Smith led NMU in scoring, averaging 12.6 points per game and reached double figures 19 times. Her career-high of 29 points came in double overtime at Grand Valley State University, an NCAA Tournament team. Smith also set a new school record with a 15 of 15 performance from the free throw line against Saginaw Valley State University.
Due to the injuries, eight players started at least five games this season, with junior Sydney Dillinger (Houghton, Mich.) the only player to start every game. Dillinger also led the team in minutes while being forced into the team's point guard role due to the various injuries. Known for her defense, Dillinger came out and set a new career-high of 11 points at Saginaw Valley State University. She also helped the Wildcats to a 67-66 victory over Wayne State University in the team's home finale by sinking the game-winning free throw.
Several other players stepped up and set new career-highs as well. Sophomore Baleigh Delorit (Algoma, Wis.) sank four three-pointers to score 12 points at SVSU and Junior Tess Weatherly (Howell, Mich.) bested that mark by hitting five threes against WSU to total 15 points.
Sophomore Erin Honkala (Howell, Mich.) started the year coming off the bench but was a key starter by the end of the year, leading the team in rebounds, blocks and steals. She also came up just shy of averaging 10 points a game, scoring a career-high 16 points on two occasions. Sophomore Jessica Schultz (Mineral Point, Wis.) started the season showing off improved range and led the team from the three-point line early in the year. She also showed she can take over in games, scoring a career-high 22 points at Lake Superior State while setting career-highs with 12 made free throws on 13 attempts and dished out a career-high four assists from her center position.
Giving the team a three-prong attack inside was junior Taylor Hodell (Wausau, Wis./DC Everest). After starting the year on the injury list, she returned and made an immediate impact, scoring double figures in eight of the first 10 games she came back, including a 17-point outing against rival Michigan Technological University in her third game.
Freshman Elizabeth Lutz (Marshall, Wis.) added to the team's firepower as the season continued and posted a career-high 19 points on a perfect night against LSSU at home. She finished five of five from the three-point line, made her only other attempt from the floor and sank both free throws in the game.
Junior Emily Schramek (Naperville, Ill./Benet Academy) came up big in the team's win over Davenport to give NMU a winning record. Against the Panthers, Schramek posted a career-high 13 points and also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds. In a tight game that was tied entering the fourth quarter, NMU kept DU scoreless for the first seven minutes of the final frame to win 55-44.
The young Wildcats return all 16 players to next year's team and will be able to fuse the experience from this year to those key players returning from injuries to compete for the top of the GLIAC and a return to the NCAA Tournament..