“That chemistry is still there”: Even with some new faces, women’s basketball feels like it hasn’t skipped a beat

By Eric Rynston-Lobel

Months before Northwestern women’s basketball won the Big Ten regular season title for the first time in three decades, Jordan Hamilton called the team “a sisterhood.” She spoke of the unique closeness of the group after a mid-November practice, just days after blowing out Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Most Wildcat fans know the rest of the narrative well. Northwestern finished the season with a program record 26 victories, a Big Ten championship and expected to host a regional in the NCAA Tournament.

Hamilton foresaw the positive impact of these bonds on the group’s future: “The atmosphere, the way that we’re so close, tight-knit, it’s all genuine and natural,” she said that November afternoon. “Being able to connect with one another each and every day just makes the experience here at Northwestern so much better.”

Fast-forward almost a year, and the college sports landscape is quite different, yet the chemistry of the Northwestern women’s basketball team has remained a constant through it all. Despite graduating five seniors and adding three first-years, the positive culture doesn’t seem to have changed much.

“It hasn’t flinched. It hasn’t missed a beat. Our team has always been very inviting and open to multiple personalities. I feel like our personalities somehow piece together,” Hamilton said. “The first-years, they have a lot of energy, they’re goofy, they’re young, but they bring something to the table. That’s why I’m really confident with this team this year because that chemistry is still there.”

Entering last season, the ‘Cats lost only one player, albeit a phenomenal talent in Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. Abbie Wolf slid into her role as seamlessly as one could. This year, the ‘Cats have even bigger shoes to fill, particularly without Wolf and Abi Scheid, the nation’s second-best 3-point shooter by percentage.

But Head Coach Joe McKeown said he likes what he’s seen from his newcomers so far. First, he hesitated to compare forward Anna Morris to Scheid, saying that’s not fair to the first-year but commended her ability to shoot the ball. He called guard Jasmine McWilliams “a pleasant surprise” who’s strong defensively and brings a competitive edge.

“[McWilliams] wants to guard Pulliam. Sometimes that doesn’t go well, but she wants that type of challenge,” he said.

With forward Paige Mott, McKeown said she reminds him of Kunaiyi-Akpanah, particularly her physical presence around the basket.

And what’s more for excitement? They’ve all gelled with the returning players.

“They brought that energy, they brought that personality, and it just kinda meshed with everyone else,” junior guard Lauryn Satterwhite said. “That’s what we wanted. We want to invite people into our circle because we know that the closer we are, the closer we are going to be on the court as well.”

McKeown said the first-year trio would be leaned on for depth, and smoothing their transition into the program with help from his veteran players has helped provide a calm during these turbulent times.

As Hamilton and several other players sensed at this time last year, something special was brewing in Evanston. Now, after enduring a long emotional rollercoaster from the devastation of a canceled NCAA Tournament and the departure of five seniors to the excitement and anticipation of three first-years and a renewed goal of defending the Big Ten title, the ‘Cats are ready to tip things off.

“We haven’t missed a beat,” Satterwhite said. “We’re really ready for this year, and we’re really excited.”