By Eric Rynston-Lobel
In this special edition of Posting Up, I sat down with Abi Scheid, Abbie Wolf and Byrdy Galernik ahead of the final regular season home game of their Northwestern careers. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can also listen to the full conversation by clicking here.
Let’s go back over four years ago. Why’d you choose Northwestern?
Abi Scheid: That’s a big question. My final three were Nebraska, Vanderbilt and Northwestern. Loved the two other schools, but I feel like Northwestern really made me feel at home out of all three, and — I’m trying to say this without bashing the other schools — I think the players really welcomed me with open arms. I actually went on my visit with Byrd [Byrdy Galernik], so I guess you could say that was part of the reason. They just felt most at home. I loved the location being in a suburb of Chicago. I’m from a small town, Elk River, probably 20,000 people, so I wanted something different, and I found that at Northwestern. Something that would push me out of my comfort zone.
Abbie Wolf: Similarly, I wanted somewhere where I felt at home but that would really push me to be the best student and basketball player I could be. I was also looking at Vanderbilt, Boston College, Princeton and here, and I think there was a moment at Walker Brothers [a pancake house in northern Chicago] where I was just laughing with Maya Jonas [former Northwestern guard] and Kate Popovec was there too, she was director of player development. It didn’t feel forced at all. A lot of times, official visits can be super awkward, but I just related to the girls instantly and this was the place I wanted to spend the next four years.
AS [to Wolf]: Wait, hold on. Didn’t you do the challenge at Walker Brothers or something?
AW: Oh yeah. There’s that Big Apple Pancake.
AS: And she ate it all. I remember hearing about that or something on your visit.
Byrdy Galernik: They called you “apple” right?
AW: Yeah. They called me “apple.” Our freshmen year we all had nicknames.
AS: I was “peaches.”
BG: I wanted to choose a place that was kind of close to home. Toledo, Ohio is about four hours away, so I wanted my parents, my family to be able to come to my games a lot, so obviously that was a big factor in coming here. As well as being a top academic school, being able to compete at the highest level, and I saw they made it to the [NCAA] tournament a couple years ago, so I knew this program was on the right path, had the right people and coming in with this group, I thought that would make a difference.
This season is going to go down as perhaps the best in Northwestern Women’s Basketball history. Most wins in a season. One win away from the second Big Ten regular season title. What does it mean to you guys that you’ve been able to accomplish this, and is this something you ever envisioned when you came here?
AS: When we came in as freshmen, they had a 20-win season, and then when they all graduated, we had to start from the ground up. I think we’ve been working towards that since our sophomore year with this group. Building that chemistry on and off the court, learning each other’s individual playing style and all that kind of stuff, so it really means a lot that we have the potential to set all these records. We really all put in the work every day.
AW: I wouldn’t change too much, or trade places with somebody coming into this new arena, playing in the old Welsh-Ryan and going through Evanston Township [High School]. When you see the old wood on the walls, it means a little more. Storybook ending for us. Still to be written, but I remember watching that team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and like “Wow. That’s where I want to be.” I think they were like a seven seed or something like that, so it’s pretty incredible watching it on TV to now living it as a senior. Makes you think about how many other little girls are watching. [I] wasn’t too little at that point, but yeah. Senior Night and on the brink of Big Ten Championship, it doesn’t get any better than that.
BG: For me, I’ve seen us progress over the past four years. Freshmen year, we were just getting into it. We didn’t really know what to expect. We wanted to be Big Ten champs, go to the NCAA [Tournament], but we didn’t know what that meant for us. Sophomore year, going into it, it was really hard for us. We had to transition, we didn’t have the greatest season, but we still worked really hard, and I think that season kind of determined our fate senior year. Despite all the adversity that we faced, we were still willing to put in the extra time and extra work, and I think that translated into junior year going into the WNIT and then ultimately, we’re gonna make the NCAA [Tournament] this year. Continuing to work past difficult times and staying true to who we are as a team and obviously, we’re so close, so I think that really helps us when we’re losing. It’s a great experience to be able to do it your senior year because you end on a high note.
You mentioned your sophomore year. The team goes 12-20, you’re playing at Evanston Township High School. What did you take away from that season, and how has that cultivated the success you’re currently experiencing?
AS: Just knowing that we stuck together through the bad season, the adversity. I think it showed how strong we are as players and coaches. Just pushing through that, we really tightened our bonds.
AW: Our underdog mentality was definitely solidified. But we didn’t count ourselves out of any game. Near the end of the season, we almost beat Maryland, so that was a moment like “Wow. We can really be great.” There were like eight games decided by 10 points or less. It’s the opposite this year. We’ve been tied with teams at halftime, and then there’s just a moment where we pull away and never look back. That experience is invaluable.
BG: Along those lines, losing is never fun. But despite our not-great season, I still remember sophomore year being one of the best times of my life because we were going through such a tough time, but you stick together and you find other ways to bring about positivity. The coaching staff and all the players, we were still so resilient in our season like she [Wolf] mentioned, we almost beat Maryland. I think we ended up ruining Rutgers’ NCAA appearance. Just those little things at the end of the season progressed in the next one.
[To Scheid] Of the three of you, you’ve played the most in your four years here. 31 games your first year, 30 starts as a sophomore. What was it like being thrown into the fire like you were, and how did that allow you to develop into the player you are now?
AS: It was definitely a challenge, especially playing with a group of girls that had their whole college experience together and learning and developing from them. I really looked up to Nia Coffey. When I came in, she was the starting position of what I played. She’s obviously really good, had a lot of success, is in the WNBA, playing overseas. Being able to look up to her and see that “hey, she’s getting in the gym, I should probably too” or stuff like that kind of helped me into my college career, just knowing what’s expected and all this stuff. I would say that I learned the most from my freshmen year, and going into sophomore year, you learn a lot from your failures. Considering we didn’t have the best season, I think we all as a whole learned so much that season.
[To Wolf] You had one career start coming into this season. What’s it been like for you to not only become a starter, but be averaging 11 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and really seeing the fruits of your labor pay off?
AW: I definitely learned a lot playing against Pallas [Kunaiyi-Akpanah]. I wasn’t too physical of a player coming in, and reverse layups and slow moves around the basket don’t really work in the college game. So that was a wakeup call. Hitting the weight room and never giving up on myself and knowing that my time would come. I had a lot of opportunities during the end of my sophomore year and throughout my junior year to gain that confidence. I knew the team needed me, and I had to step up this year. It’s become more and more natural but just doing what I can.
[To Galernik] After playing roughly 20 minutes per game your sophomore year, your minutes have dropped a little bit the last two years, but you’ve still been playing very important minutes on the floor. What have you done to stay the course and still be a very productive player for this team?
BG: Everything comes with preparation. Always being ready for my opportunity, I never know when it’s going to come. But, if I put the time in beforehand, I’m never going to stress or be worried about what’s gonna happen. For me, if I’m prepared and I put the time in, then it doesn’t matter what kind of situation I’m thrown in because I’m going to be ready. Like I said, I think no matter the situation I’ve been in, I’ve produced what I can.
What are your favorite memories here?
AS: I thought I would get this question, so I prepared for it. There’s so many times off the court that you spend with your teammates and friends that are so memorable. This season has by far been the most memorable in my book. There’s still about a month and a half to go, so I think my favorite memory is still unwritten. I’m looking forward to that.
AW: I’d agree. To be determined. Beating Duke the beginning of last year, I think that was the first time we really said “Oh wow. This is really happening.” We’ve built this new arena. We’re in it. I think Duke was ranked at that time before they really fell off. My brother went there [and] they didn’t offer me, so it was a little personal. It was a pretty special moment.
BG: We’ve had a lot of big wins this season, so obviously, this year’s been the most memorable in terms of basketball. But over the course of the years, we’ve had so many great times in our house, in our dorms and so many other places. This Saturday is going to cultivate so many emotions, and I don’t think we’re all prepared for how we’re gonna feel. For some of us, basketball’s ending, for others it’s not. To see the support we’ve had over the years is gonna be really special. Along those lines, I don’t know if we’ve reached our peak moment yet.
You’ve all been around Senior Day. This will be the fourth time, and now you guys are going to be the center of attention. What’s that going to be like?
AS: It’s going to be a lot of emotions, like Byrd just said. Doesn’t really feel like it yet, but these past four years have gone by so fast now that I look back at it. Having everybody’s families there, just being able to celebrate our time here with all of them and our friends. It’s gonna be a fun experience, and add on top of that, a potential Big Ten Championship. It’ll be a good day.
AW: If it’s already a big moment, it’s that much bigger. Championship on the horizon. My high school coach will be in attendance, and family and a few other people from home, so it really makes you look back on everybody that brought you to where we are today. Everybody has a lot of people coming out. Byrdy has two full busloads. I wouldn’t be surprised if I cry before and after the game.
BG: I have a lot of people coming up, a lot of people who have never been to a game, never been to Chicago. It’s kind of cool that my family was able to put together a package where everybody could spend the night and see the day in the life of Byrd. I’m kind of excited. It captures the first half of our season because we don’t know what’s gonna happen in the Big Ten Tournament or NCAA [Tournament]. We’re so close to everybody and we’ve taken everybody under our wing in some way, and I hope they’ve learned something from us. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the success of this year so far.
Hopefully this doesn’t come for a little while, but what are the emotions going to be walking off the court wearing the purple and white for the final time?
AS: I don’t know. That’s a tough one. It’s been such a great journey here at Northwestern. I can’t really picture myself doing that. I’m always going to be a lifetime fan of this program. It’s really hard for me to look ahead and feel those emotions now, but I know it’s going to be a tough one.
AW: It’s never going to be like this again. In the professional game or in the workplace, people are playing for the paycheck, and have families to go home to. We go home, and we’re still with each other. We’re literally such a family. I know we’ll have reunions in many years to come talking about these moments.
BG: I gotta enjoy all those little days before that day comes because it’s gonna be a shock for me because basketball’s ending. All the time I’ve put in over the years to get here, and then all the hours and conditioning tests and every little thing that’s been so hard, ends in that moment. It’s gonna be tough. I thank my parents and my family for sticking by me because this journey hasn’t been easy over the past four years. I know my time with my friends and my family and my team is not ending, so that’s always a good outlook to see it as.