Nov. 6, 2008
The 2007-08 season was a learning experience for NIU head coach Carol Owens and the Huskie women's basketball team. Coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory, the Huskies lost four seniors, a good portion of their scoring, and welcomed six newcomers to the squad while implementing a new offensive system. Entering the 2007-08 season, there was definitely a learning curve for both players and coaches.
"When you think of the year prior, we had a pretty successful year with Mary Basic, Stephanie Raymond, Kristin Wiener and Margaret Batteast," Owens said. "We lost 85 percent of our scoring. That was tough. Then we started out the year with injuries. That sort of sidetracked us."
If there was a silver lining to all the injuries the Huskies suffered last season, it is that some of NIU's young players got some playing time they ordinarily wouldn't have received. When looking at the 2008-09 Northern Illinois team, that expereince will be one of their strengths.
The Huskies head into 2008-09 with a wealth of experience, returning four starters and nine letterwinners. Eight of the nine letterwinners started at least one game last season. Three of the eight started at least 20 games in 2007-08, while two others started at least 10 games.
Along with experience and depth, Owens' squad also boasts strong leadership. Seniors Becky Smith and Jessie Wilcox are entering their fourth and final season with the Huskies. Owens has a great deal of respect for what both have given to the program, and expects them to be strong leaders this season.
"I appreciate their natural leadership abilities and their loyalty to this program," she said. "I think they're tremendous on and off the court in how they've represented not only the program, but the institution. Their work ethic all four years has really stood out."
Wilcox was one of the Huskies' leading scorers last season, averaging 10.3 points a game. She scored a season-high 23 points, going 7-of-13 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line in NIU's 60-59 victory over Western Illinois. She also posted a 22-point performance in the Huskies' 77-63 victory over Buffalo. Wilcox started 22 of 24 games for the Huskies and finished the season with 11 double-digit scoring performances.
Smith started 19 of 28 games for NIU last year, averaging 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. She posted a season-high 10 points twice: in Northern Illinois' 77-74 victory at Miami University, and in a 75-67 loss to Kent State in the first round of the 2008 MAC Tournament.
Also wrapping up their collegiate careers in 2008-09 are seniors Shari' Welton and Aileen Rossouw. Both came into Owens' program as transfers in 2006, Welton from Wisconsin and Rossouw from Auburn. While they were practicing with the team during their red-shirt year, it's no substitute for game experience.
"Last year, they had to get back in the routine of playing and getting used to the pace of the game and all that goes into suiting up and playing," Owens said.
Welton, the team's defensive specialist, started in 27 of 28 games and led the team in steals with 29. While guarding the opposition's top player, she had a solid year offensively, with 8.9 points a game and 14 double-digit scoring performances. She led the Huskies in scoring in six games. Welton posted her first career double-double, against Western Illinois, and in the process scored the game-winning basket.
Rossouw made a good first impression last season, scoring 14 points in her first career start as a Huskie in the season opener against Bradley. She would start two more games, but was bothered by an ankle injury that caused her to miss seven games. She averaged 4.4 points and three rebounds a game coming off the bench.
The Huskies have two juniors that have been in the program with Owens since day one. Since coming in as freshmen, Terriel Cannon and Kylie York have been effective from beyond the three-point line. After spending the last two years adjusting to the college game, they have taken on more of a leadership role in 2008-09.
"I think they've done a great job in reaching out to all the freshmen and sophomores," Owens said. "They've gotten themselves in a place where academically, they're sound. they know the program, they understand the program and they understand me and what I want to do. I feel they're extensions of me."
Last year, both juniors saw their roles expand with York starting 26 of 28 games and Cannon making her first career start against St. Joseph's.
York stepped up and made a big impact in her second season with Northern Illinois. She led the Huskies in four categories, including free throw percentage (.903), three-point field goal attempts (216), three-point field goals made (77) and minutes played (875). She is tied for fourth on NIU's career three-point field goals made list with 125, and her 77 three-pointers last year puts her second on the single season list for three-point field goals made.
The junior from Fishers, Ind. was second on the team in scoring with 10.9 points a game. She had 15 double-digit performances, including three 20-point efforts. York scored a career-high 27 points in NIU's win over Miami (OH), going 7-11 from beyond the arc.
Cannon saw her minutes jump from four minutes a game as a freshman to 10 minutes a game last year. She was hampered by an ankle injury much of last season and missed six games. Cannon shot 39.1 percent from beyond the three-point line. Also a solid defensive player, Cannon finished with 10 steals, including a career-high three in NIU's game with Kent State in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
Along with strong veteran leadership, Northern Illinois boasts a solid group of young players. NIU has three sophomores that saw significant playing time as freshmen last year.
Center Ebony Ellis played in all 28 games for the Huskies last season and started 10. She played a season-high 34 minutes and scored 10 points versus Iowa in the Hawkeye Classic. It was one of five double-digit scoring games for Ellis.
"Ebony was one of my first recruits," Owens said. "She was like Shari' and Aileen. Being on campus is one thing, starting to practice and play is another. So there were a lot of new things for her to learn. She's like a sponge. She has tremendous talent, tremendous upside. She's still growing and learning. She has had a great offseason. I'm really excited about her."
Ellis recorded her first career double-double against Central Michigan when she scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 11 boards. She accomplished the feat a second time against Kent State, scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in an overtime victory for the Huskies. She led NIU in rebounds, hauling in 164 and averaging 5.9 a game. She also led the team in blocks with 25.
Another young post player that contributed valuable minutes last season was forward Mauvolyene Adams. She saw action in 27 of 28 games, averaging 14.9 minutes a game. Her best game of the season came against St. Joseph's where she went 8-of-12 from the field for 18 points. It was one of three double-digit scoring performances. Adams ranked third on the team in rebounds, with 115 and averaged 4.3 a game.
"Mauvolyene and Ebony, got some quality minutes as freshmen and that is crucial in understanding this level of play and the game," she said. "Especially as a post player, the pace of the game, the physical nature of the game, you've got to go through it to experience it. A year under her belt has been good. Our goal for Mauvolyene is for her to stay healthy so she can be that consistent force for us."
Bianca Brown started two games for the Huskies last season, but was primarily used off the bench. She saw playing time in 20 games, averaging 7.6 minutes and 1.5 points a game. Her first career start came against St. Joseph's where she played a season-high 24 minutes and scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists.
"I think this year she can improve her minutes," Owens said. "I think Bianca understands what's required of her. We'd like to have her be a little bit more consistent on offense. I think she's a pretty sound defender. I think she understands a little bit more what it is that we want her to do and how she can contribute to this team."
Owens will have four new additions in 2008-09. Marke Freeman, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida A&M, will be playing her first season for Northern Illinois. Owens is eagerly anticipating seeing her in the Cardinal and Black.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing her play," Owens said. "She adds depth to the point guard position. She has that point guard mentality. I'm looking for her to give us leadership."
The Huskies welcomed three new members to the fold this season in freshmen Sarah Rogers, Courtney Shelton and Tenisha Wilson. All three are area products. Rogers helped lead Marshall to the 2008 Class 3A state title. Shelton earned NIC-10 Most Valuable Player honors after leading Honenegah to a regional championship and an appearance in the sectional finals last season, while Wilson played a major role in Bogan's first supersectional appearance in school history. While Owens expects these players to contribute on the court this year, her goal for them is just to get acclimated to college life.
"I just want the freshmen to get adjusted," Owens said. "For the most part they've done that. They are really good at listening. I think we have some solid talent coming in."
For the fourth straight year, the Huskies will open a season in the friendly surroundings of the Convocation Center when Northern plays host to IUPUI Nov. 14. It is one of five home games the Huskies will play in their 13-game non-conference schedule.
After the season opener at home, Northern Illinois will play six of its next seven games on the road, including a four-game stretch in seven days from Nov. 18-25. NIU will travel to South Orange, N.J. Nov. 21-22 to take part in the Seton Hall Basketball Classic. The Huskies will open the tournament against UMBC Nov. 21.
"Playing on the road is an area where we need to improve," Owens said. "If we've got to go on the road for a majority of the games, this is the time to do it. One of our goals is to get better and improve on the road."
Once again, the Huskies will play a large percentage of their non-conference slate against teams in the area. Along with hosting Illinois State, UIC and Chicago State, NIU will travel to five other teams from the Land of Lincoln. NIU's first road game of the season is Nov. 18 at Western Illinois. The Huskies will travel to Peoria to face Bradley Nov. 25 and head to Carbondale to play Southern Illinois Dec. 28. The Huskies continue their rivalry with DePaul this season when they face the Blue Demons Dec. 18.
"By playing local teams, you get people that are familiar with the teams and they're going to want to come to the games," Owens said. "I don't think we have to go far to play good competition. The teams we play are very competitive in their respective conferences."
The Huskies begin conference play on the road when Northern travels to Central Michigan Jan. 7. NIU's first MAC home contest will be Jan. 14 when Western Michigan comes to the Convocation Center. It marks a stretch of five of six MAC games played at home.
The Huskies final home game of the season will be Feb. 28 when the Chippewas come to DeKalb. Northern Illinois concludes its regular season on the road, with the season finale taking place in Kalamazoo, Mich. when the Huskies take on Western Michigan Mar. 7.