October 29, 1998
EVANSTON, Ill. - The Northwestern women's basketball team returns possibly the best duo in school history with senior co-captains Kristina Divjak and Megan Chawansky. Last year, they combined for 73 percent of the team's three-point field goals, 54 percent of the team's made free throws, 53 percent of the team's scoring, 31 percent of the team's rebounds and played a combined 88 percent of possible minutes.
The NU program is not one accustomed to losing, having had just four sub-.500 seasons in its 23-year history. The Wildcats hope to put last season's 10-21 overall record, 3-13 in Big Ten Conference play, in the past as the team enters the 1998-99 season.
Northwestern returns plenty of offensive firepower in Divjak and Chawansky, as the duo combined last season to average 37.5 points per game. As a team, the 'Cats ranked fifth in the conference, averaging 71.2 ppg. However, if NU is to have a shot at moving back into the upper division of the Big Ten and competing for a postseason berth, the Wildcats must improve defensively and rebound better at both ends of the floor.
Injuries also plagued the Wildcats last year, with nine of 15 players missing at least one game and combining for a total of 113 potential games played lost due to injury. Five of those who were injured last season (Berki, Fisher, Giblin, Holland and Sears) are all frontcourt players who must contribute this year for NU to win.
The 1998-99 campaign officially gets underway on Mon., Nov. 15 at the University of New Mexico. The Wildcats have two tune-ups prior to that with home exhibition games against Shelen Russia on Tue., Nov. 3 and the Chicago Challengers on Mon., Nov. 9.
New Mexico is one of 10 opponents on NU's schedule that participated in last year's NCAA Tournament. Among the others, Cal-Santa Barbara visits Welsh-Ryan Arena in the home-opener on Nov. 18, while Western Kentucky and Maine appear at Northwestern's Roger L. White Invitational on Dec. 4 and 5. Western Kentucky and Maine will face each other, while Northwestern entertains Ohio in the first round.
Two other non-conference games promise to prepare the 'Cats for Big Ten action. Northwestern will be at DePaul on Nov. 20 and at Northern Illinois on Nov. 25. Both programs are traditionally strong.
A highlight on this year's schedule is another trip out west, this time to California, for contests against perennial power Stanford on Dec. 15 and Cal-Berkeley on Dec. 17.
"We're going to California because the kids wanted to play Stanford," head coach Don Perrelli explained.
Northwestern's Big Ten season begins on Dec. 30 at Indiana. Then the schedule calls for one more non-conference game at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on New year's Day.
"Our non-conference schedule is one of the most challenging in a long time," Perrelli remarked. "We want to make sure we are ready for the Big Ten season."
The full conference slate unfolds following that. Last season, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa all represented the Big Ten in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats will be seen twice on television during the regular season. Their game versus Ohio State at home will be broadcast by Fox Sports Chicago on Jan. 17, as will their Jan. 31 contest at Minnesota.
The Big Ten Tournament will be held at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Ind. on Feb. 26-Mar. 1. Of course, the tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The strength of the Northwestern women's basketball program over the years has been the backcourt, and this season will continue that tradition.
Leading the way is senior co-captain Megan Chawansky. The two-time All-Big Ten honoree has played a great deal of both point and shooting guard during her career, and will be looked upon to direct much of the NU offense this season. Chawansky finished second on the team last season in scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (3.6 apg) and third in rebounds (5.5 rpg). In addition, she is a viable outside threat, entering her final season fifth on NU's all-time three-point chart (108).
"I can't say too much more about Megan," Perrelli joked. "She does everything."
A pair of sophomores will need to provide a spark this season: Dana Leonard and Clarissa Flores, both of whom are Chicagoland natives. Leonard is expected to play primarily point guard and spot up from beyond the arc. Nearly one-half of her field goals last year (24 of 49) were three-pointers. She also is a very scrappy player, willing to dive into a pile for loose balls at any moment.
"Dana should be our point guard this year," Perrelli proclaimed. "She is a very confident player who is very good at reading the floor and leading the break. There are times we may move her to the off-guard spot and move Megan to the point because of Dana's excellent outside shooting."
Flores is probably one of the best pure athletes to play for the Wildcats in many years. A free spirit on the court, she excels at one-on-one situations. Flores earned seven starts as a freshman, showing many flashes of brilliance, including 14 points in nine minutes vs. Western Kentucky.
"I see Clarissa having a big impact on the team this year," Perrelli said. "She's quite possibly our best one-on-one player. She came along nicely last year once she got the ball in the open floor."
A fourth guard, fifth-year senior Shannon McGarrigle, missed all of last season due to a back injury. If healthy, McGarrigle gives the Wildcats an experienced backup at point guard. Much like Flores, Perrelli says that McGarrigle provides the team with a boost in the open floor because she likes to run and push the ball up court.
Senior All-America candidate Kristina Divjak headlines the Wildcat frontcourt. Depending upon the unit on the floor, Divjak has been asked to play either small forward, power forward or center (despite standing just 6-0) during her career. In her first two seasons, 'Divi developed the well-earned reputation of a deadly outside shooter, but last year added a post-up game to her repertoire. In addition to leading the Big Ten in scoring at 22.1 points per game, she also led NU in rebounding with 6.1 boards per contest. This season, the team will continue to count on Divjak's shooting for offense, but needs to take some of the rebounding responsibility off her shoulders.
"I still feel that there is a big part of Kristinais game that has to improve," Perrelli commented. "Her ball-handling has to get better, She's got to be quicker going to the basket and she's got to be a big rebounder for us this year. We're asking her to do all of that without limiting her scoring."
Battling for a starting job, and much of that rebounding responsibility, will be senior Anne Giblin and junior Leslie Schock. Giblin started the first nine games last season before suffering a stress fracture. Schock immediately stepped in and started 15 of the final 22 contests. Giblin gives the Wildcats a hard worker on the inside, setting screens for Divjak and Chawansky.
"Anne is a phenomenal player who will play the four spot for us," Perrelli praised. "She expects a lot out of herself and is very demanding on herself. When we had her for the NIT, we were a good basketball team. We want to try and keep her healthy so that we can get her in there all the time."
Schock is an excellent shooter in the 10- to 15-foot range, but also can knock down a three-pointer and had three double-doubles a year ago.
"Leslie got a lot of time last year," Perrelli said. "She is a good outside shooter, has a nice touch from the free throw line and could be a starter for us. I know she worked on her ball-handling this summer. We need her to be more physical inside."
Sophomore forwards Tami Sears and Chala Holland both suffered early-season injuries last year. Sears looked strong in preseason workouts prior to developing a stress fracture which knocked her out the entire season. Holland suffered a concussion in mid-October, thus hindering her time to learn the Wildcatsi flex offense. Holland played in just 11 games last year. If healthy, these two individuals could provide much needed depth at the forward spot.
Bill'e Russell is the lone newcomer on this year's roster. A native of Sleepy Hollow, Ill., Russell was a three-sport standout at Dundee Crown High School. She was an all-state, all-area, and all-conference player as well as a USA Today honorable mention pick from the state of Illinois. Although she played a lot of post positions in high school, Perrelli foresees Russell being used at the three spot.
"Bill'e has good speed, great jumping ability and could come out and challenge right away. She can also help us rebound," Perrelli added.
Two true centers will battle for the starting job: junior Leah Berki and sophomore Becky Fisher. Berki earned her first collegiate start last year at No. 16 Western Kentucky while Fisher played in just three games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. This position is wide-open, with Berki holding an on-court experience edge (44 games vs. three games) and Fisher holding a three-inch height advantage (6-4 vs. 6-1). Another possible candidate for the center position could be Sears, whose 6-2 frame could handle the physical play of the Big Ten.
"Leah should come in with a lot of confidence," Perrelli predicted. "She got a lot of playing time in the post last year. She is an excellent foul shooter and passes well from the wings. On the other hand, Becky is a very tall player in the position we need most. She showed us some good things before her injury. She's got good inside moves and is very smart in terms of reading defenses and passing. In our system, thatis very important."
If the Wildcats can stay healthy and get greater production from the post position, they could surprise some people and reach their goal of returning to the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Defense and rebounding are two crucial areas in which the team must improve.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr. Hometown/High School
0 Tami Sears F 6-2 So. Libertyville, Ill./Libertyville
3 Becky Fisher C 6-4 So. Des Moines, Iowa/Dowling
10 Dana Leonard G 5-6 So. Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South
11 Shannon McGarrigle G 5-6 Sr. (5) Ridgewood, N.J./Ridgewood
21 Chala Holland F 6-1 So. Ardmore, Pa./Delaware County Christian
22 Clarissa Flores G/F 5-8 So. Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young
24 Megan Chawansky G 5-11 Sr. Avon Lake, Ohio/Avon Lake
25 Leslie Schock F 6-0 Jr. Elgin, Ill./Elgin
32 Bill'e Russell F 6-1 Fr. Sleepy Hollow, Ill./Dundee Crown
33 Anne Giblin F 6-0 Sr. Upper Montclair, N.J./Mt. St. Dominic Academy
35 Kristina Divjak F 6-0 Sr. Dyer, Ind./Lake Central
52 Leah Berki F/C 6-1 Jr. Willowbrook, Ill./Hinsdale Central
Head Coach: Don Perrelli (15th year)
Assistant Coaches: Amy Backus (4th year), Robin Garrett (4th year),
Jennifer Kiefer (2nd year)
Megan Chawansky: Chuh-wan -skee
Leah Berki: Burr-key
Kristina Divjak: Div-yak
Clarissa Flores: Flor-ez
Chala Holland: SHAY-la
Bill'e Russell: Billy
Roster By State
Illinois (6): Leah Berki (Willowbrook); Clarissa Flores (Chicago); Dana Leonard (Glenview); BillEe Russell (Sleepy Hollow); Leslie Schock (Elgin); Tami Sears (Libertyville)
Indiana (1): Kristina Divjak (Dyer)
Iowa (1): Becky Fisher (Des Moines)
New Jersey (2): Anne Giblin (Upper Montclair); Shannon McGarrigle (Ridgewood)
Ohio (1): Megan Chawansky (Avon Lake)
Pennsylvania (1): Chala Holland (Ardmore)
Roster By Class
Seniors (4): Megan Chawansky, Anne Giblin; Kristina Divjak; Shannon McGarrigle
Juniors (2): Leah Berki; Leslie Schock
Sophomores (5): Becky Fisher; Clarissa Flores; Chala Holland; Dana Leonard; Tami Sears
Freshmen (1): Bill'e Russell
Location: Evanston, Illinois
Enrollment: 7,400 undergraduates
President: Henry S. Bienen
Athletics Director: Rick Taylor
Colors: Purple and White
Conference: Big Ten
Home Court: Welsh-Ryan Arena
Head Coach: Don Perrelli (15th year at NU, 23rd overall)
Record at NU: 239-165 (14 years)
Overall Record: 414-236 (22 years)
Assistant Coaches: Robin Garrett (Northwestern, '90), Amy Backus (Central Michigan, '79), Jennifer Kiefer (Michigan, '97)
1997-98 Record: 10-21
1997-98 Big Ten Record/Finish: 3-13/10th
Letterwinners returning/lost: 9/4
Starters returning/lost: 3/2
Media Contact: Kerrin Perniciaro
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Reserved Season - $30.00 each (Reserved seating in section 104)
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SINGLE GAME TICKETS
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Adult - $4 each
Children - $3 each
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This season 20 Wildcat games will be broadcast on WNUR radio, each preceded by a pre-game interview with Coach Don Perrelli.
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