While it wasn't the total can of whoopass that the men's team opened up over Robert Morris yesterday, the women's basketball team also cruised to victory in its exhibition Sunday, 83-61 over D-II Lewis University.
I didn't get to watch the game, but from all accounts, this year's team will be more run-and-gun than we've seen in the past, and they have the depth to do it. No love for the Wildcats in the preseason AP and USAToday/ESPN polls, but I'm expecting good things.
I got a chance to talk to senior guard Allison Mocchi to get her thoughts on the team. She sat out Sunday's exhibition with a lightly sprained knee, but she hopes to be back in time for the official season opener Friday at Central Michigan.
Allison came to NU as a twin duo with her sister Maggie. Maggie actually had the better freshman year, as Allison dealt with injuries, but last year as a junior, it was Maggie who had to drop the sport for personal health reasons. Allison plays on and will be a team captain for her second year this season. She's a spark off the bench for the Wildcats, and with so many newcomers on the team, she'll be relied upon for her leadership and experience.
SoP: Last season ended on a tough loss to Alabama in the second round of the WNIT. What did you guys do in the offseason to prepare yourselves for this year?
AM: Coach always tells us that great players are made April through October, so if we wanted to be good, those were the months we had to work extra hard to be successful. And then great teams are made October through March. Obviously, we lose some key players, and everybody knew we'd have to step up individually to fill that void. That's been our big focus.
SoP: Those players you guys lost — Amy Jaeschke, Beth Marshall and Meisha Reed — has it been a big adjustment playing without them?
AM: Yes and no. They brought a lot of experience and talent, all three of them. That's where a lot of our scoring came from, even energy, which is something you can't teach. A lot of people have stepped up. We do have a lot of returners and experienced players. Everybody's taken on different roles they haven't had in the past. Nobody's selfish. Everybody's out there to play for a team. That'll be key for our success this year. We might not be the most talented individuals out there, but we can be the best team out there, because we can all play together and play to each other's strengths.
SoP: How will this year's team be different from last year's?
AM: Last year, a lot of our offense was focused around Amy. We don't have that anymore. This opens up more opportunities for people to step up. We'll run a lot more. I think we'll be a quicker team, which will be different, I think harder to guard. Almost our whole team can shoot. They're going to have to respect that, but we also have post players who aren't afraid to go up hard inside. I feel like last year we were oriented towards getting the ball to the paint, but now we'll keep teams guessing. Will we shooting the three or getting it inside? That'll be different for us this year.
SoP: You've got three highly touted freshmen coming in. How have they fit in so far?
AM: All three freshmen come in ready to work every day. Our upperclassmen are taking them under their wing and showing them the expectations. They've come in on their own to do some shooting, working with coaches, trying to learn the offense. They've taken a lot of initiative on themselves, and their work ethic is just unbelievable. There's nothing more you could ask from a freshman class.
SoP: What are this team's strengths and weaknesses?
AM: I'll start with the weaknesses. So far, we're still so young and still so new with each other that working as a team to get after people defensively, we're getting there. We've improved from the first day of practice, but we're not playing our best basketball yet, which I don't think coach expects us to yet. But just playing some more solid team defense is something we'll be working on. Our strengths, we'll be athletic, we'll be quick, a little faster paced than we have had in the past, and I think that'll be hard for other teams to guard.
SoP: You came in to NU with your sister, Maggie, and you guys even filmed a commercial together for the Big Ten Network. What's it going to be like this year not playing with her, and what is she up to now?
AM: It's been really difficult not playing with her. She's someone I played with for my whole life. She's supported me, been to every game she can get to. She calls me every day asking, "How was practice, what did you guys do today, how'd you do?" It's great that she can support me. I know she misses it like crazy, but she puts on a happy face for me. She'll graduate at the end of the winter quarter, which is awesome because she's worked so hard in school, as well. She's in the process of job hunting right now.
SoP: What's it like to play for coach McKeown? Is he as intense off the court as he is on?
AM: He can be pretty intense off the court, too. He's pretty sarcastic, and if you don't know him, you might not get his humor. But I'm at the point where I get his humor, and I get him. He's a good guy, a great coach, obviously, and he's got a bunch of assistants who are all really knowledgeable. He's mellow, great dad, great family man.
SoP: Who's the funniest person on the team?
AM: I'd have to say Inesha Hale. She's quiet when you first get to know her, but once she starts talking, she's funny, she imitates people, she cracks joke. She's quiet on the court, so when she speaks up to a coach's question or something, it usually ends up in laughter.
SoP: There's been a lot of debate in college sports about whether student athletes should be paid, and the Big Ten has been talking about adding some stipends on top of scholarships. From your perspective as a women's basketball player, what are your thoughts on whether colleges should pay athletes?
AM: I haven't been following it too much. That's more of an administrative question. As a player, I didn't care if I was going to get paid in college or not, because I love the sport. You're not doing it because it's a job, you're doing it for love of the sport, and money isn't in a lot of people's heads. I don't know. I guess if we have the budget, why not? I honestly don't have an opinion about it either way.
SoP: What's your major, and what do you plan to do after college?
I'm a learning and organizational change major, with a business institutions program minor. I'll be wrapping that up at the end of the spring. I'm in the process of job hunting right now. Something that interests me is companies that have leadership development programs. I'm looking to places with those to explore different companies. I'm also considering coaching. I'm not ready to leave the sport yet. I'm so sad that it's my last year, and I would love to stay involved in some capacity. I'm thinking about talking to some of my coaches, seeing how they got into it, and exploring that a little more.
SoP: What will you miss most about NU?
AM: Just missing the game in general, the competitiveness of the Big Ten, playing competitively and my fans and family coming to games. That's always been so exciting to me. And obviously the girls on the team. I've built some great relationships with great people here, and hopefully we'll stay friends forever.