Women’s Basketball: NU missing leadership this season

Danny Daly

Most teams, particularly ones as young as Northwestern’s, rely on their seniors to lead them out of tight spots.

Since veteran players have been in the program for four seasons, they know how to react in situations that freshmen might not be as familiar with. In many ways, seniors serve as assistant coaches out on the floor.

But that hierarchy is slightly inverted in the case of this Wildcats’ team due to a new coach and few seniors on the roster who are forced to deal with a losing record. The combination of these factors has made it harder for NU to finish off games, though the victory over Wisconsin suggests that the team is beginning to adjust and gives it a boost of confidence heading into Thursday’s game against Michigan State.

The offseason coaching change is the first issue the Cats have dealt with this season. Whereas seniors usually are better acclimated to the system because they have more experience, having to learn new coach Joe McKeown’s schemes has put everyone on equal ground.

Being the most experienced members of the team can be a disadvantage in this scenario. Underclassmen know they will play in the new system in future years, but seniors have just one season to learn and will graduate before they have mastered it.

For this reason, there is a tendency to give more minutes to younger players to evaluate them and help them become more comfortable with the new sets.

“(The seniors) are only going to be here one season with me, and I’m trying to build this program for the future too,” McKeown said.

The coach also said that it can take most of the season for a new coach to find the right combinations of players.

Senior forward Ellen Jaeschke knows this process all too well. Transferring to NU prior to last winter after beginning her college career in the Air Force, she has played for three different coaches in four years.

Last season, Jaeschke started 28 games and led the Cats in field goal percentage. After starting the first two games this year, Jaeschke proceeded to play just eight minutes in the next five games.

With Jaeschke receiving limited playing time, NU’s second problem was exposed: a lack of seniors on the roster. Guard Erin Dickerson, the team’s 3-point specialist, is the only other senior that plays regularly – center Julie Bielawski has battled injuries that have limited her to play just five minutes.

“I’ve been put in a completely different role this season, especially being a senior,” Dickerson said. “(Coach McKeown) expects a lot out of me, being a leader on the team.”

The final challenge the Cats have tried to overcome is their history of losing. Entering this season, the seniors had won just 19 games during their time at NU.

Falling short so many times damages a team’s confidence, to the point where it starts to expect to lose. Playing on a team that has had as many chances to win games as the Cats have this season is uncharted waters for the class of ’09.

“As a senior I’ve never been in a position where we’ve won games,” Jaeschke said. “I think that’s part of how the senior class has struggled. We haven’t had the experience of winning a lot of games.”

Meanwhile, this year’s freshmen are much more accustomed to winning. Allison and Maggie Mocchi and Brittany Orban all played for successful high school teams last winter. McKeown credited Orban and her fearless attitude with giving the Cats a spark late in their win against Wisconsin.

The next step for the Cats, having proven that they are capable of winning a tight game, is doing so on a consistent basis. Michigan State and 6-foot-9 center Allyssa DeHaan pose the next major test.

Something to keep in mind: In the four games when seniors Dickerson and Jaeschke both played at least 20 minutes, NU won twice and led at halftime in the other two. It is certainly a small sample size, but not necessarily a coincidence.

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