By Eric Rynston-Lobel
If someone told you one of the best pure shooters in the Big Ten was on Northwestern, you’d probably think of Abi Scheid. If not Scheid, who’s shooting 47.5% from three, you might say Lindsey Pulliam. Head Coach Joe McKeown said he thinks it’s Jess Sancataldo.
Sancataldo, a sophomore from Australia, has only played 11 minutes this season and only has 19 made field goals in 22 games as a Wildcat. Those might not be the numbers we’d expect from an elite “pure shooter.” But these stats can be misleading. Since coming to NU, she’s had surgeries on both of her knees, so she’s just finally getting healthy again.
“To me it’s everything. Basketball is my whole life, and to not play for like nine months and have three surgeries and come back is the most freeing feeling to have and trying to help my team win is my biggest priority,” she said.
Winning is something the Wildcats have done a lot of this season. Currently 17-3, the team sits tied for second place in the Big Ten with Maryland. However, Sancataldo hasn’t been able to fully contribute to that just yet. She’s only played in three games, all in the waning minutes of blowouts. But even these opportunities to finally play again have allowed her to recognize she has almost climbed the mountain.
“Coming back, it was a bit of an up-down process because of the different surgeries that I had, so I did a lot of rehab,” she said. “I’ve just been focusing on my body every single day of the week and putting in extra work outside of practice as well.”
Preston Reid, one of her assistant coaches, also realizes how long it has taken for her to recover.
“[It’s] Rewarding for her. She’s put in so much work in the weight room to get back physically,” Reid said. “She hasn’t lost anything on the court. It’s just getting back to the normal reps.”
In practice is where her coaches recognize her incredible abilities. During shooting drills, one can’t help but notice that she rarely misses shots. Not only does she not miss, she hits nothing but net.
“When we shoot, we shoot for swishes, we don’t shoot for makes,” Reid said. “So, her mindset if she makes it is if it’s not a swish, she’s disappointed. She’s putting in a ton of work, and even before her surgery she was shooting at a different level. She’s getting back to where she was.”
While she worked her way back from those surgeries, Sancataldo would often shoot around on the floor without much jumping. That may have been a challenge at the time, but she said she thinks the adjustments she made during this period have put her in a good spot.
She also smiled when told McKeown called her one of the best pure shooters in the conference.
“That feels really nice,” Sancataldo said. “I have actually been working on my shot a lot. It’s gotten a lot better since last season even, so to hear that gives me a lot of confidence.”
Given that the ‘Cats are in the middle of Big Ten play, it will be challenging for Sancataldo to get consistent minutes on the floor. That hasn’t stopped her from staying prepared.
Reid said if Northwestern faces a team like Iowa who plays zone, her ability to stretch the defense could prove to be an asset because she’s good at helping stretch that out. Having a sharpshooter off the bench could also provide a spark if the offense is stagnant.
“I just have to believe that the coaches are going to trust me to put me in whenever they need to,” Sancataldo said. “They know I like to shoot the ball. I just have to stay mentally ready and just keep pushing.”
Posting Up is a weekly column about Northwestern Women’s Basketball. Each Monday, Eric Rynston-Lobel writes about a unique aspect of the team that hopes to win the Big Ten for the first time since the 1989-90 season.