Last year at this time, the St. Bonaventure women's basketball team was running on excitement and adrenaline. Making their first postseason appearance ever, the Bonnies rode the emotional wave to the Elite Eight of the Women's NIT.
Make no mistake, the energy is still there.
This time though, Bona hopes to combine experience with the enthusiasm. The Bonnies (23-9) host Northwestern in the Reilly Center at 7 p.m. tonight in the second round of the WNIT.
"Last year there was always a kind of little bit of giddiness, of happy to be here," Bona coach Jim Crowley said. "We have some really good leadership that's focused and paying attention. They know they have a quick turnaround and that this time of year everyone you're playing is good. We still have a lot of excitement but it's been with a bit more of a workman-like approach."
While the Bonnies are ready to continue to build through good old-fashioned wins, Northwestern is on the rise after more than a decade in the basement of the Big Ten.
At 17-14 overall, it's the first winning season for the Wildcats since the 1996-97 season and first time in double-digit wins since 1998-99.
A big part of the credit goes to coach Joe McKeown, in his second season at Northwestern. McKeown spent 19 seasons at George Washington, where his Colonial teams missed the postseason just twice. Of those 17 postseason bids, 15 were to the NCAA Tournament including Sweet 16 appearances in 2007 and 2008.
In his first year, the Wildcats went just 7-23. But with some better talent to complement a talented junior center, Northwestern has turned the corner.
"It's been a little bit frustrating because I want things done yesterday," McKeown said. "You get so used to playing in the NCAA Tournament and being ranked in the top 20 but you understand what has to be done to build a program and sustain it. It's a little frustrating for me, but Northwestern has been really good trying to do the things that need to be done. I'm just not as patient as I used to be."
Junior center Amy Jaeschke was a first-team Big Ten selection, averaging 17.1 points per game, and has benefited from the play of junior point guard Beth Marshall. Marshall was key in the Wildcats' first-round win over Duquesne, scoring 25 points including hitting 6 for 7 from three-point range.
Freshman Kendall Hackney was a Big Ten All-Freshman selection and is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 9.2 points a game.
"I was watching them play on tape and I remembered how good a coach [McKeown] is," Crowley said. "They run a number of different sets and run them all very well. They mix their defenses, never really giving you an easy flow to get into. At GW he sometimes had players that were better than others, but I thought he was always underrated for how good a game coach and preparation coach he is. We're going to have play very well to keep it interesting."
The praise for a job well-done goes back to Crowley from McKeown, too.
"What he's done has been incredible with the energy that program has," McKeown said. "I saw it happen first hand. I think it's a great tribute to [Crowley], too. He's been very loyal. He loves St. Bonaventure and I think he gets the most out of his players. He's a players' coach and you see the way that they respond to his coaching."