It’s no secret that the Wildcats have a lot riding on this season.
The end of this campaign, whenever it comes for the ‘Cats, will mark the departure of several of key contributors from the last few years, including (but not limited to) one of the greatest to ever wear the purple and white, Veronica Burton. While the Backcourt Burglar’s impending graduation will certainly leave the largest hole on a team that has relied on her for nearly every aspect of its games this season, the roster will also lose an additional two starters in Courtney Shaw and Lauryn Satterwhite, as well as Sydney Wood, a usual starter who has missed all but four games this season with injury. Jess Sancataldo, who has played four minutes this season, is also expected to graduate.
With about 1⁄3 of the regular season to go, a clear replacement to Burton has yet to emerge on Joe McKeown’s squad. Most of the remaining guard minutes have been allotted to first-years Melannie Daley and Jillian Brown, but both currently appear more primed for a sharpshooting two-guard spot than an every-possession ballhandler and facilitator.
Aside from those two, the remaining backcourt options are junior Kaylah Rainey, sophomore Jasmine McWilliams, and first-year Hailey Weaver. Of those three, Rainey has had the most experience taking the ball up the floor with Burton off-court. Weaver, ranked No. 35 by ESPN as a recruit in the Class of 2021 and McKeown’s highest rated first-year, has only seen the floor in four games, but her upside could allow her to challenge Rainey for the starting job next season.
Needless to say, in the post-apocalyptic world where the Wildcats no longer have Veronica Burton to carry them each week, the point guard position next season is up in the air.
This puts a very large emphasis on the Class of 2022. After a cycle where McKeown recruited three starters in Brown, Daley and Caileigh Walsh, as well as Weaver and Mercy Ademusayo, Northwestern has just one recruit in HoopGurlz’s Top 100 rankings.
On the bright side, that recruit is indeed a point guard. At 5-foot-9, Westport, Conn. native Caroline Lau projects as a floor leader who excels on both ends of the court. Lau’s style certainly emulates that of Burton and will give her a chance to be a defensive leader in the backcourt akin to the one that the Wildcats have had for the last four years.
Joining Lau is Lauren Trumpy, a 6-foot-3 forward from Camp Hill, Pa. The dual-sport athlete uses her size to create a physical presence in the paint, but also utilizes the jumper as a stretch big similar to Walsh. The No. 196 recruit’s senior season was unfortunately cut short before it began after she tore her left ACL playing volleyball in November, so the Wildcats will have to hope she makes a full recovery before she arrives in Evanston next year.
The final recruit of Northwestern’s 2022 class is 6-foot-2 forward Alana Goodchild, who joins Sancataldo as McKeown’s second recruit from Sydney, Australia. Goodchild has played on the national stage for several years, even playing in the WNBL against professional athletes as part of the Bendigo Spirit. Goodchild, like Trumpy, looks to be a lengthy, athletic big who can stretch the floor while also using her size inside.
As far as remaining options, there aren't many. None of the remaining prospects on the ESPNW 100 are uncommitted, and the ‘Cats still have two open roster spots for next season. The lone rumored target is still unsigned, 5-foot-6 guard Kennedi Perkins from Bolingbrook, IL. Perkins is a three-star point guard who is explosive on the scoring end and has offers from Michigan State, Illinois and DePaul among other major Division I schools.
No matter how you slice it, Northwestern takes a clear hit next year, losing much more than it gains. After a recruiting cycle that saw McKeown add three recruits in the top 56 and a top 10 class overall, it’s certainly disappointing to have an incoming class ranked 13th among Big Ten teams and just 52nd overall. McKeown appears to have the wings and frontcourt shored up for the foreseeable future, but replacing one of the greatest ever in the backcourt will undoubtedly be a challenge.