Cats struggle in Combs’ 1st year

Nina Mandell

With a new coach, new faces in the starting lineup and what the team said was a new attitude toward the game, Northwestern thought they were headed for success.

But after a season of “distractions” — the dismissal of junior forward Suzanne Morrison, a temporary, unexplained absence of sophomore forward A.J. Glasauer, injuries and mental breakdowns — the Wildcats found themselves back in a familiar spot: the cellar of the Big Ten.

The team bowed out in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, finishing 10th in the Big Ten with a 2-14 conference record and a 5-25 overall mark.

The Cats finished with three more victories last season before coach June Olkowski’s contract was not renewed.

NU’s biggest triumph of the season was its upset of then-No. 24 Penn State in a 59-48 win at, Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Cats other conference win came against conference last-place finisher Michigan.

Despite finishing the season on a nine-game losing streak, NU coach Beth Combs refrained from showing her frustration, with the exception of NU’s loss at Michigan State on Feb 3. She said her team lacked heart and did not play for 40 minutes.

“I’m embarrassed for our team, our program and our university,” Combs said after the game.

The Cats didn’t shape up after that and went on to lose to Iowa by 20 at home a week later. NU held a halftime lead against Indiana in the following game but ended up losing by one. As the season wound down, the Cats lost two more games by more than 20 points and found a new attitude — acceptance.

After Penn State proved their loss to the Cats was an anomaly by defeating NU 83-56 in their Feb. 20 rematch, Combs had little but positive comments about the loss.

“I was pleased with our effort because we have not played well the last four games,” she said after the game. “I don’t think the score is indicative of how well we went for it.”

In place of wins, the Cats started having good losses and bad losses. One of the good losses came against Wisconsin on Feb. 24, when Combs got a glimpse of her future lineup after replacing some of her starters with freshmen after halftime. The younger squad came back from a 20-point halftime deficit and ended with a seven-point loss to the Badgers and an excited coach.

It wasn’t the first time the team got excited about individual play. Almost everyone on the team had a shining game or moment for the Cats. Junior Ifeoma Okonkwo had a series of games where she led the Cats in scoring and rebounding, freshman Melissa Miller grabbed as many as 13 rebounds in a game, Glasauer had a career-high 10 assists against Illinois and everyone played at least a few minutes a game.

The Cats found consistency in freshman Sara Stutz’s shooting, senior Sarah Kwasinski’s post play and senior point guard Samantha McComb’s solid court leadership.

But contributions from everyone could not earn the Cats a regular season road win or even the ability to say they expected one.

“It was a good one to go out in because everyone played hard,” Kwasinski said after the team was eliminated from the Big Ten tournament. “That’s all you can really ask.”

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected]

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Jerry Lai /the daily northwestern

Sophomore forward A.J. Glasauer walks off the floor following one of the Cats’ 14 conference losses.

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