Women’s Basketball: Despite disappointing loss to Penn State, Laya Hartman shines in first career start


Alyce Brown/The Daily Northwestern

Laya Hartman and Jillian Brown high five as the starting lineup is announced against Penn State. Hartman got her first career start on Thursday, scoring 10 points.

MaryKate Anderson, Reporter

Northwestern looked to bounce back against Penn State on Thursday after a particularly hard loss in their game last Sunday. 

The match marked the first game with students back in the stands — including the team’s beloved band and fellow student-athletes — since Dec. 5, 2021. As the starting lineup was announced, the team’s cheers were notably louder for junior guard Laya Hartman, who replaced freshman forward Caileigh Walsh in what has been a fairly consistent starting lineup this month. 

Thursday’s game was Hartman’s time to shine. The matchup against Penn State was the first start of her career, a chance she earned with several commendable performances in the Wildcats’ last few games and the first time Coach Joe McKeown had altered the starting lineup since Dec. 17, 2021.

“It was an awesome feeling,” Hartman said. “Any time I’m able to get on the court, being able to play with my teammates is really the end goal. I think it’s just having confidence in myself regardless of my positions.”

Hartman came out swinging in the first quarter, taking half of the team’s first 12 shots and accounting for five of their first seven points. 

The Cats (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten) ultimately fell 63-59 to the Nittany Lions (9-7, 3-3) in their second straight Big Ten loss. However, the game did provide a glimpse of an NU offense with Hartman in a more central role. 

Hartman’s willingness to take shots and serve as a scoring threat to the opponent proved to be her strength, as well as beneficial for a team that often relies heavily on senior guard Veronica Burton. Hartman shot more than any of her teammates — including top scorer Burton — with 13 field goal attempts.

All in all, the Okemos, Mich. native finished with a 10-point performance in her 28 minutes of play, plus four rebounds, three assists and a steal. Burton finished the game with 16 points.

Hartman said her presence near the three-point line often served to move the defense toward her, leaving lanes open for her teammates to make plays. 

Before this season, Hartman hadn’t scored more than six points, nor had she played more than 12 minutes in one game. Since the beginning of this season, Hartman has scored at least 10 points in four contests and played for the majority of the game five separate times. 

“(Hartman’s) had a great year for us off the bench, and I think she’s earned opportunities to start,” McKeown said. “Whatever challenges we put in front of her tonight, she answered the bell really well.”

A more primary role, if not more starts, may be in Hartman’s future as the Cats continue to navigate Big Ten play. NU will make the trip to College Park on Sunday to take on No. 12 Maryland. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @mkeileen

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