Post Valentine’s Day Love for the role players

Ryan Connelly Holmes gives some love to those who aren’t in the spotlight

Valentine’s Day was Tuesday, but some love still needs to be extended to the Northwestern women’s basketball team, which is going through a very rough stretch. During any losing streak (for the Wildcats it’s 10 of their last 13) it is easy to get down on a team and start throwing criticism left and right. However the purpose of this column is not to dwell on faults or pretend that everything is great. That is not what guarded optimism is all about. The sole purpose of this week’s writing is to do one thing – give some post-Valentine’s Day love to the role players who go overlooked.

Let’s start with Kate Popovec. For someone who has seen little time this year after transferring from University of Pittsburgh (averaging 5.6 minutes in the five games she has played), Popovec has been nothing but a sparkplug for the Wildcats. When she comes off the bench to replace Dannielle Diamant or Alex Cohen her teammates and the crowd light up. She is the quintessential hard-working and scrappy player who maximizes her time in the game. Her two rebounds for every five minutes in the game are also the best ratio on the team. But her most valuable addition is how she plays the game: with an infectious energy. And though that doesn’t always make noise on the stat sheet, Kate Popovec adds a great bit of energy to NU.

We will stay in the low post for the next recognition, Alex Cohen. The freshman is still adjusting to a new system, but has transitioned well. Cohen, in her time on the floor when Diamant is getting a breather, shoots one of the highest percentages on the team and is third on the team in blocks. Against Penn State last week, Cohen scored eight points and pulled down five rebounds during her 14 minutes while filling in for Diamant who was out with a concussion. Cohen has showed a lot of promise in her rookie season for the Cats, and NU may have another star in the making down low.

The last player that tends to get overlooked but is invaluable for this Northwestern team is Meghan McKeown. She has become a crucial substitute coming off a short bench in every game this season and eating minutes to give starters much needed rest. But McKeown is not solely a consumer of minutes. She has been productive, playing mistake-free basketball, only turning it over 15 times in the 11 plus minutes she has gotten every game this season. Her three point shooting has also improved dramatically from a year ago, up more than 10 percentage points from last season. This season has definitely seen her take a more expanded role with the team, to the benefit of both NU and McKeown.

I’ll add head coach Joe McKeown to this list as well because, despite the struggles the Northwestern has experienced this season, it is still on the rise. McKeown brought in stud freshman like Karly Roser and Morgan Jones, with three more great recruits to come next year and one from the ESPN HoopGurlz Super 60 to come to Evanston in two years. Diamant and Hackney will also be back for their senior seasons with high expectations. Yes, success has been scarce in recent weeks, but blame should not be directed at McKeown, who has this program on the trajectory to be one of the best in the Big Ten next year and in the seasons that follow.

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