Women’s Basketball: Northwestern returns hungry for greater success


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Senior guard Maggie Lyon battles for position in the paint. After earning an NCAA Tournament berth last season, Lyon and the Cats are aiming even higher for the upcoming season.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

CHICAGO — After an offseason to absorb their recent success, Northwestern’s coach and stars are in agreement: There’s plenty of work to be done.

Last year’s Wildcats (23-9, 12-6) made program history, passing the 20-win benchmark for the first time in 19 seasons while earning an NCAA tournament bid after an 18-year hiatus.

Coach Joe McKeown, junior forward Nia Coffey and senior guard Maggie Lyon represented NU at Thursday’s Big Ten Media Day. While each was quick to recognize last season’s accomplishments, there was a consensus that nobody was ready to rest on their laurels.

“We’re hungry, but we haven’t really accomplished much,” Lyon said. “We made the NCAA tournament, but we didn’t win the Big Ten, we didn’t advance in the NCAA tournament. As great as it was for making history for Northwestern, it wasn’t satisfying enough.”

Though the campaign marked a turnaround for the program, which has been rebuilding since McKeown was handed the reins in 2008, Arkansas killed the team’s postseason aspirations in the NCAA tournament’s opening round.

Despite the loss and lingering “hunger,” as described by both Coffey and Lyon, the team knows it has a solid foundation to build upon.

“We’re very optimistic about our team as a whole,” Coffey said. “With what we have, we know it’s special, but we have to build on that.”

Including Coffey — unanimously selected to the Coaches Preseason All-Big Ten Team after averaging 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks last year— and sharpshooter Lyon, five of the seven players in last year’s rotation are back.

Junior point guard Ashley Deary returns to orchestrate NU’s offense and spearhead its perimeter defense, along with junior guard Christen Inman and senior forward Lauren Douglas, who each averaged double-figures.

“I think one of our strengths is we’re going to have five people that you have to guard,” McKeown said.

The only major contributors from last season who will not return are center Alex Cohen and guard Karly Roser, both of whom graduated.

Cohen’s void will be the biggest to fill, literally and figuratively. The 6’5’’ post was a crucial presence on a team that struggled to rebound.

McKeown will look to replace her with a “three-headed monster,” composed of junior Allie Tuttle, senior Christen Johnson and freshman Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah.

Kunaiyi-Akpanah enters the season talented but raw, though her tenacity on the boards has the team excited.

“(Kunaiyi-Akpanah) has such a hunger for rebounding,” Coffey said. “She’s upping our standards and upping our game as a whole during practices.”

Other freshmen include guard Jordan Hankins— who McKeown said is “as fast as Ashley Deary” — and guard Amber Jamison, who McKeown described as a “strong, tough kid.”

But even after last season’s watershed campaign, NU is focused on the future, not the past.

“Last year was such a great season, but we just want even more from that,” Lyon said. “We’re not satisfied with what we did last year. It was great to make the NCAA tournament, make a lot of history throughout the season, but that’s over and this is a clean slate.”

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