Women’s Basketball: Seniors set to leave their mark on the Wildcats


Daily file photo by Luke Vogelzang

Lauren Douglas drives toward the basket. The senior forward will have a final chance to help the Cats reach the NCAA Tournament.

Khadrice Rollins, Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

Joe McKeown is on the verge of building something big.

Last year, Northwestern put together a historic season by notching 23 wins and reaching the NCAA Tournament. Then it was all over in a flash.

Poor rebounding, an injury to a key contributor and a missed shot by the team’s star player left the Wildcats out of luck and on a plane headed home. NU left the big dance right after it showed up.

“Getting to the NCAA Tournament was great, losing in the first round kind of left these guys hungry,” McKeown said.

Going into this season, the Cats have all eyes on them. High preseason rankings in multiple polls show it’s clear there are expectations for excellence in Evanston. With the team’s top five scorers and four starters returning, there is plenty of reason to believe NU deserves its preseason praises.

This is new territory for this program, but for coach McKeown, it’s a return to familiarity. When he coached at George Washington, 20-win seasons and being ranked in the preseason were not signs of good things to come. Rather, they were the norm.

“I want them to enjoy it … that’s my theory here,” McKeown said about the Cats being ranked No. 19 in the AP Top 25. “GW I looked at it a little different. You told me we were ranked 19, I would be mad. We should be in the top five, top 10.”

McKeown said the team will have to be consistent if it wants to get to where he had George Washington. And it will be the veterans who are asked to lead the team even further.

The senior class has seen it all with NU getting better during each of their seasons. The quintet consists of guards Tessa Haldes, Nof Kedem and Maggie Lyon and forwards Lauren Douglas and Christen Johnson.

During their time with the Cats, Haldes and Kedem have not been able to crack the rotation due to a crowded backcourt, but have provided a good example for other players in the locker room and for the community. McKeown said they have been much more than basketball players.

Similar to Haldes and Kedem, Johnson has also had a tough time cracking the rotation during most of her NU career. But just like her classmates, Johnson has proven herself a leader off the court, evident by being named a captain two-straight years.

This year may be her chance to make an impact in games with last year’s starting center, Alex Cohen, graduating. But Johnson and McKeown have both said that her spot is not given, she must show she deserves it.

“Coach and I talked, and he was like, ‘you have to just keep earning it,’” Johnson said. “So that’s helped me mentally to always come into practice every single day like I don’t have anything, I still have to work for this.”

While Johnson is expected to take on a bigger role, Douglas will also be needed to help fill the void left by Cohen. But unlike Johnson, Douglas’ spot in the rotation is already locked up.

The versatile forward has been a Swiss army knife for McKeown thanks to a skill set that allows her to take advantage of defenders from anywhere on the court.

Last season, Douglas was unavailable when the Cats needed her most, however. She battled an injury in the middle of the season, and then was unable to suit up for the team’s NCAA Tournament game.

“Injuries are always difficult, but you just always try to look forward, move on to the next thing,” Douglas said.

If Douglas can stay on the court this year, she should provide consistent production for the team in all facets of the game.

But the most reliable contributor from this group has been Lyon. The sharpshooter has put together one of the best resumes of anybody in program history and will have a chance to write a great final chapter if she continues to do what she has done her first three years.

Lyon is third in NU history in three-pointers and has eclipsed 1,000 points in her career. Along with being one of the team’s top scoring threats, she will also be passing wisdom down to the younger players, similar to what happened to her when she first arrived on campus.

“You learn things when you’re younger,” Lyon said. “Things that you don’t like, things that you do like. And you learn that and kind of want to be the best leader possible.”

The group has plenty of wisdom it can impart on the underclassmen. It also will need to bring serious contributions on the court.

McKeown said this group is special, and this year will be their last chance to show that. In his quest to go from the Big Ten’s basement to the conference penthouse, McKeown said the team needs to know how to win. The seniors have shown they know how to improve from year to year, and if they make one more jump, they can leave a mark on the program similar to how they have left a mark on McKeown.

“Obviously the tangible things, like taking a program to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, I don’t know if that’s ever been done here,” McKeown said. “But also the impact they’ve had in helping to bring Northwestern basketball to the forefront of the campus and the community … These guys have done a lot of things besides basketball that I think is really going to be their legacy.”

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