The UMD women’s basketball team finishes its non-NSIC list this week with a road trip to the Midwest. First, the Bulldogs meet Northern Michigan on Friday, November 25 at 2 p.m. (3 p.m. EST) before concluding with a contest against Michigan Tech on Saturday, November 26 at 1 p.m

UMD’s NSIC play primer Tuesday at St. Cloud turned out to be a success. The Huskies battled the Bulldogs tooth and nail, especially in a second half that saw 14 lead changes overall. In the end, however, UMD was able to record a 59:56 victory.

When the latest D2SIDA Central Region Poll was released earlier this week, the Bulldogs fell from a tie in second to sixth place. UMD received no votes in D2SIDA’s top 25 poll, released later Tuesday. There was no new WBCA poll, so the Bulldogs maintain their position of receiving votes from week one’s poll.

Northern Michigan scouting report
It’s the beginning of a new era in Marquette, and it’s starting at the top.

Troy Mattson had been with the Wildcats for 17 seasons, but after a 12-16 season last year, Northern Michigan decided to change positions. To fill the gap, the program recalled someone who had previously sat on the Wildcat bench – only in slightly different roles. Enter Casey Thousand.

After seven seasons at the helm of Division III’s Edgewood, Thousand was Mattson’s assistant coach from 2016-18 and was named associate head coach for the 2018-19 season. After that, she made her way east to take the mantle as head coach of the other Division II program at Illinois Springfield. In three seasons with the Prairie Stars, the team has seen nothing but improvements. This culminated in a 17-11 record in 2021-22, the program’s most successful outing since 1998-99. Perhaps a certain Prince song that Minnesotans appreciate found some maturity in the gym as the season wound down. One thing there is little doubt about is that the Wildcats had realized what Thousand could achieve and had an eagerness to repeat where their DII coaching journey began.

So far it’s looking pretty good. Thousand’s Wildcats started 4-1.

It’s an effort spearheaded on the pitch by four different players who averaged double-digit points.

One is a name that probably hardly needs introduction in Marquette circles — Makaylee Kuhn. The youth guard was already there and did it. She entered the season as a member of the GLIAC Preseason First Team. There’s a good chance she’ll do the right thing by the end of the year considering she’s a two-time All-GLAIC First Team member. With that in mind, it makes sense that Kuhn leads all Wildcats with 12.8 points per game. And all while being the team’s most reliable distributor at 3.8 assists per night. She’s also grabbing six boards a game — Kuhn does a little bit of everything. That makes even more sense when you consider that she’s the longest-tenured Wildcat in the team’s starting rotation.

Outside of Kuhn, it’s a second-year crush for northern Michigan. First are the real sophomores, Mackenzie Holzwart and Abi Fraaza. Holzwart’s started the year second on the team in points per game with 11.6 and fourth on the roster in average rebounds with 4.8. Fraaza wasn’t far behind in terms of scoring at 10.6 points per night (no less than 68% shots from the field) and is himself second in rebounds per contest at 5.2. A transfer from Minnesota Crookston before the start of this season, Fraaza has been a worthwhile addition so far. Then there are the redshirts in Kayla Tierney and Ana Rhude. Tierney is a hair’s breadth from third place with 10.4 points, her points at a shooting clip of 51.9%. Rhude is doing her fair share of scoring – she’s fifth on the team in points per game with 8.6 points. But what makes the center so dynamic is that she can hit those buckets while also being the team’s most reliable rebounder. She leads all Wildcats with 7.4 boards a night.

The diagnosis for this Wildcats team reveals a fresh roster (including coaches) championed by a accomplished, dependable upperclassman. So far it’s a recipe that’s worked pretty well. Assuming everyone only gets better, which in all likelihood will be the case… Beware of the wildcats in the GLIAC. This group could see a year of recent success like the team’s 23-10 campaign in 2018-19 and look to go even further, maybe even adding some conference hardware on the way to the trophy cabinet.

About two hours west of Marquette in Houghton, there hasn’t been a coach search in half a decade. No need to when someone like Sam Clayton is leading the way.

Clayton knew a thing or two about the history of the Michigan Tech program before she came on board to run it — after all, she helped write some of it. As a player, Clayton was a big part of the Huskies’ run up to the National Championship game in 2011. This made the program’s knock on her door in 2018, when she was an assistant at Sioux Falls, quite difficult to ignore. Who says you can’t go home?

And who says you can’t do it in style? So far, Clayton has done just that. In her four complete years with the program, she has won more than 20 seasons (two) than lost campaigns. In their most recent 20-win appearance, the Huskies went 20-2 up in a COVID-shortened 2020-21 season that saw the Huskies top the GLIAC with a 17-1 conference record in the regular season. They would turn this into a run through the conference tournament and win the GLIAC postseason title. This was good enough to land Michigan Tech #1 in its Midwest region of the NCAA tournament and #6 in the WBCA rankings. Unfortunately for the Huskies, their season (and 18-game winning streak) would end in the semifinals at the hands of Ashland. Last season Michigan Tech still had an impressive year with an 18-11 overall win and 11-7 in the GLIAC (good for second place in the North Division). However, there’s no doubt that Clayton and co. would like another taste of what the year before was like.

So far this season the Huskies sure play that way.

Michigan Tech has started the 2022-23 season with a 4-1 start. They made it mostly through players who were there in the 2020/21 season and know what it takes to reach those peaks. Of the four huskies in the average double-digit range, three of them are upper class. Who better to lead the charge than Ellie Mackay, a First Team All-Conference member a season ago. Mackay has done a good job so far this season to lay a foundation for a repeat appearance and leads the Huskies with 14 points per game. Second on the team is Senior Alex Rondorf, who made the All-Conference Second Team last season. The Guard has been a force so far this year. It’s not just that she’s averaging 12.8 points a night shooting 52.5% from the field, or that she’s sharing the team lead in an assists game with 2.6. She does all of this while also posting a team-high 9.8 rebounds in competition. Averaging 1.8 steals to lead the team while you’re at it. Rounding out this experienced group of huskies is junior Katelyn Meister and her reliable 10 points a night, and Sloane Zenner, a senior averaging 6.8 points who’s capable of moving from front to guard.

There may not be many youngsters in the higher echelons of this team, but the underclassmen, faced with opportunities, grabbed them and ran with them. Remember, Rondorf finished second on the team in points per game – tied on points with Isabella Lenz sophomore, GLIAC Freshman of the Year last year. With her 12.8 PPG average so far this season, it sure doesn’t look like she’s interested in peaking early. Then there’s a player like Soraya Timms, a true newcomer who averages more playing time than Zenner in a heavily defensive lineup. A true point guard herself, Timms was considered the main passer for the Huskies and she rose to the occasion. She’s the one who ties Rondorf in assists per contest at 2.6

It’s still a thriving season, but so far young talent has slotted right into a core of experienced Huskies to make this Michigan Tech roster one that has more than earned the respect of its opponents. Between that grizzled bunch and the hitherto successful youth movement of Northern Michigan lies a challenging trek for the Bulldogs. A chance for UMD to prove themselves as a team to be reckoned with.

Follow all of this week’s action live on FloHoops by clicking on the links below:
vs Northern Michigan (Friday, November 25 at 2pm (3pm EST)):
vs. Michigan Tech (Saturday, November 26 at 1 p.m.):

For the Bulldogs, once they return to Duluth, there will be nothing but NSIC action the rest of the way. UMD will be staying home to play Minnesota Crookston for Ugly Sweater Night on Thursday, December 1 (5:30 p.m. PDT). The Bulldogs will then make a short trip to Bemidji to take on the Beavers on Saturday, December 3 at 1pm


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