Sports Watch: Men’s basketball squad isn’t the only team that deserves the spotlight

Danny Daly

For the first time in years-decades, even–there’s a buzz surrounding Northwestern basketball. The Wildcats have overcome significant injuries to find themselves on the verge of making the NCAA Tournament, a feat the program has never accomplished. NU was ranked earlier this season and just knocked off then-No. 6 Purdue, its first home win over a top-10 team since 1994. Sophomore forward John Shurna is among the Big Ten’s leading scorers, junior Michael Thompson is emerging as one of the best point guards in the conference and forward Drew Crawford is putting together an impressive freshman campaign. And the students are embracing the Cats, regularly filling the sections behind both baskets for home games.

With all of the attention being paid to coach Bill Carmody’s crew, it’s easy to overlook the other hoops squad that calls Welsh-Ryan Arena home. Don’t make that mistake. The women’s basketball team is also off to its best start in ages, and people should start noticing.

Considering NU’s recent history, the apathy is understandable. The Cats haven’t mustered a .500 record in Big Ten play in more than a decade, including an 11-119 conference record during an eight-year stretch.

But longtime George Washington coach Joe McKeown took the reins before last season, and he has quickly turned the program around. With a 12-6 record, NU has more than doubled its win total from the year before McKeown arrived, putting the team in position for postseason play. The Cats’ center, Amy Jaeschke, might have the best pro potential of anyone on the men’s or women’s teams.

The 6-foot-5 junior is supported by one of the most talented freshmen classes in the country-featuring Kendall Hackney, who was Ohio’s high school player of the year in 2009, and Dannielle Diamant. The upperclassmen are contributing, too, especially sharpshooting point guard Beth Marshall.

The problem is the Cats’ league-low attendance of 1,011 fans per home game. That’s less than one-fourth of the average crowd NU plays in front of on the road. Aside from the marching band and cheerleaders, you can usually count the number of students on two hands.

It’s too bad, because everyone is missing a good show. Seven of the Cats’ games have been decided by four points or fewer. NU even topped a ranked opponent back in November, beating then-No. 15 DePaul. Of course, only 815 people were there to see it. Women’s sports generally have a stigma that’s undeserved-the quality isn’t worse just because you’re not going to see anyone dunk. Admission is free and the games are exciting, so give it a chance. Besides, you’re always looking for another excuse not to do homework.