Women’s Basketball: Young Wildcats have high hopes entering exhibition

Alex Lederman, Reporter

Northwestern kicks off its season 5 p.m. Wednesday with an exhibition against Lewis University at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“I’m anxious,” freshman forward Nia Coffey said. “I’m really excited to finally wear that Northwestern uniform.”

The Wildcats look to bounce back after a disappointing 2012-13 campaign in which they finished 13-17 overall, 5-11 in conference, and were knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament in the first round by Iowa.

Coach Joe McKeown, entering his sixth season with NU, is confident his squad will put up better results this year.

“I think the biggest improvement is we’re just deeper — we have more players,” he said. “Even though we’re young, we’re talented.”

Under the watch of McKeown, the women’s basketball program has grown exponentially. NU earned two consecutive postseason bids in 2009-10 and 2010-11 after 12 straight sub-.500 years. His success recently landed him a contract extension through 2017.

The coach plans to use Wednesday’s game to evaluate his club’s strengths and weaknesses.

“I think the biggest thing is just lineups — who can play together,” he said. “And, you know, just cleaning up really the things defensively that we’ve been breaking down on in practice and then offensively just trying to execute better and not turn the ball over.”

McKeown cited turnovers as NU’s “Achilles’ heel” last year. He said the Cats will be a better transition team this season and will make smarter decisions.

Crucial to the team’s improvement is senior guard Meghan McKeown, who will return after missing nearly all of 2012-13 with a hip injury.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “Sitting out last season was really hard, but I’m excited for my last go-around. It’s my senior year, so hopefully we can get off to a good start.”

The senior was named a captain for the team in October along with fellow senior La’Terria Taylor and junior Karly Roser.

“My goal as a leader is just to make sure we’re all on the same page, make sure everyone is excited and staying positive and really focusing on what our main goals are,” Meghan McKeown said.

Also returning is reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Maggie Lyon. The 6-foot-1 guard is the first-ever Cats player to bring the prize to Evanston.

It’s this year’s freshman class, however, who will be turning heads at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday night. The four new Cats rank among the best recruiting classes in the nation and will be key to NU’s success. Leading the charge is Coffey, who was named a McDonald’s and WBCA High School All-American and steered her team to three Minnesota State Championships.

“I’m willing to take any role that the coaches want me to take,” Coffey said. “I plan on helping the team on all aspects defensively and offensively, just being that hustle player and being all around a good teammate.”

Joe McKeown hopes the newcomers’ seasons on the court can be as successful as their start off the court.

“It’s been a fun quarter to start their career at Northwestern,” he said. “There’s been a lot of excitement around here, and I think they love it.”

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