The state of the NU women’s basketball team four years ago was so lousy that it had no reason to ever think a 6’5" McDonald’s High School All-American and member of Team USA’s U-19 World Championship squad would ever choose to accept its scholarship offer over the likes of Duke, Stanford, Ohio State and Michigan State.
But Amy Jaeschke, who attended nearby New Trier High School, surprised the women’s basketball world by staying close to home and becoming a Wildcat. All she’s done in her four years in Evanston is lead the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks every season, culminating in a senior year that saw her pick up a slew of awards, including first-team All-Big Ten and Wooden Award finalist. Projected as a potential first-round WNBA draft pick, Jaeschke is NU’s career blocks leader and second in career points and rebounds.
Not that her path’s been easy. Her first college game in 2007 resulted in a fractured right hand that caused her to miss the next nine games. Then after a 5-26 season that year, the coach that recruited her, Beth Combs, resigned.
Jaeschke’s final two years in a Wildcat uniform have gone much better, with two consecutive NIT appearances, the first postseason games NU has played since 1996. That gives the program something to build on as it chases that elusive NCAA tournament berth, a goal that seemed light-years away when she first arrived on campus.
Jaeschke was kind enough to agree to an interview with Sippin’ On Purple, and I talked to her last Friday, while she was on spring break in
AJ: To be honest, not really. I keep thinking about going back to school and how I’m going to have to go to workouts, and then I’m like, oh wait, nobody’s expecting me to be there. So I don’t think it has hit me yet.
SOP: Talk about the game against Alabama. What was it like walking off the court for the last time?
AJ: It was pretty emotional, knowing it was the last time you’d be in a Northwestern jersey. It was tough, but it was nice because there were a lot of fans out there to support us. A lot of the men’s team was there, and my family was there. It was nice to see that you could go out in front of your friends and family.
SOP: There’s been a lot made about your decision to come to Northwestern. You were being recruited really heavily out of high school by a lot of powerhouses, and Northwestern didn’t have a lot of success in basketball at the time. What was it about Northwestern that sold you on the school?
AJ: First and foremost, obviously academics at Northwestern are pretty remarkable. I wanted to get a degree from a great university, and Northwestern fit the bill. As far as basketball goes, when I sat down with [then-]coach Combs, she talked about how at a lot of schools I was looking at, you’d just be the next All-American player to come in and keep the tradition of their school going, but you could come to Northwestern and you could be one of the first players to rebuild the program and make it better. You could make it a destination that a lot of great players wanted to come to. Just thinking about that kind of sold me because I wanted to do something different. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could get the ball rolling and change the program around.
SOP: You’ve had a bit of a roller coaster ride through your time at Northwestern, obviously with the coaching change, your injury, the lack of wins early on. Were there any times you questioned your decision to come to Northwestern?
AJ: I don’t think I ever questioned it. There were definitely some really hard times going through it, but I think any college student goes through those ups and downs themselves. At the end of the day, I knew I would have a Northwestern degree in my hand at graduation, and to me that was the important thing.
SOP: What did you major in?
AJ: I was a communications major. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to stay in the sports world. My freshman year, in the spring, I helped out in [NU's] sports marketing department, just to see what that was like. I really liked it, so I think once basketball is over, I think I’ll try to go into sports marketing, and one way to go about that is to have a communications degree.
SOP: Looking at next year, I’m sure it’ll be a weird experience for you not to be out there at Welsh-Ryan Arena, but how do you think the team is going to do? There are some pretty highly touted recruits coming in, some transfers that will be eligible.
AJ: I’m pretty excited to go back and watch them. I always joke that I’m going to be like a proud mama sitting in the stands when I go to that first game. But I think our team is going to do really great next year. I’m really excited to see the girls that are on the team currently developing and getting better, but also seeing the transfers. [Pittsburgh transfer] Kate Popovic, I think, is going to tear it up next year. A lot of people are going to be impressed with her play. And [Kentucky transfer] Anna Cole, just being 6’7", is really going to give a lot of girls in the BigTen a run for their money, just because whenever you play someone that tall, it makes you think twice about shooting. And obviously there’s some great freshmen coming in. They should be pretty exciting. I haven’t seen any of them play, so I can’t really say a lot about them, but I know our coaches are really excited about them.
SOP: Who’s going to be that leader of the team next year? The team is losing three seniors in yourself, Beth Marshall and Meshia Reed.
AJ: Allison Mocchi was a captain with Beth and I this year. She’s already in that leadership role and done a great job. Brittany Orban will be a senior next year, and she’s just a great example of working very hard and doing everything that you’re supposed to be doing. A lot of girls already look up to her, and she’ll move into that role nicely as a senior.
SOP: How close do you think the program is to making the NCAAs?
AJ: I think we’re very close. Making it to the postseason two years in a row, people have gotten a taste of playing in the postseason, but at this point nobody is really satisfied with what we’ve done so far. All the girls work very hard in the offseason, and next year they’re going to try and make a better run.