Forward Maggie Lyon is coming into the 2014-2015 season with 754 points, 258 rebounds, 146 assists and 2080 minutes played. That’s after only two years of collegiate basketball. Though she didn’t have to travel far to begin her Northwestern career (she graduated from New Trier Township High School in Wilmette in 2012), she’s already made her mark on the team, earning the distinction of 2013’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Her accolades and experience earned her a spot as one of the women’s basketball team’s captains this year, along with junior Christen Johnson and senior Karly Roser, one of only two on this year’s squad.
Before the season gets truly underway, Lyon chatted with NBN on why this year’s team is more focused, why she’s excited to play Maryland and why powerhouse Big Ten teams better watch their backs.
The team only has two seniors this year. As a junior, do you feel an added pressure to step up into a leadership role?
Yeah, I was selected captain by my teammates and my coaches, which was a really big honor, so I’m excited to fill that role and step up the expectations for myself. I feel a lot more responsible for my attitude, my energy in practice and I have to bring that every single day and set an example. So, I’m excited for that role and I’m excited that my teammates feel that they can look up to me. I think we’re just really excited to play together this year.
As a freshman, you were named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. How do awards like that, especially so early in your career, affect its trajectory?
I think it just makes you want to work harder to prove to everybody that you deserved it. So that’s kind of what I’ve done ever since. It was exciting to get but I’d rather just play and win with my team as opposed to get individual awards, but it was still an honor to receive that.
What’s the experience like of going to college only three-and-a-half miles from where you went to high school?
It’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed having my parents get to see all my games and friends and family from the community get to see some of the games and support Northwestern athletics. It’s not like I see my parents all the time or anything like that; it’s kind of like an added bonus. If I want to see them, if I am having a tough week or something, I can get dinner with my mom. I’ve really enjoyed it, just having that community aspect be able to still be a part of my basketball life and my life.
Last season, you played the most minutes of any player on the team. What kind of toll does that take on your body, and how do you prepare for that?
We have a great staff, our strength and conditioning coach and our trainer – they really prepare us well: stretching and recovery after practice and recovery after games and off days. I think it’s utilizing those days to the fullest and know that you have to give 100 percent effort, and it doesn’t matter how many minutes you play because every minute counts. Nobody’s complaining about it. Other teams don’t care how many minutes you play; they’re going to give you their best effort so you have to give your best effort to them.
What game would you say you’re most looking forward to playing this year?
I’m really excited about playing DePaul. We had a big win against them here last year [an 82-79 win in Evanston on Dec. 1] and we’d love to redeem that again and their place, because my freshman year, we lost at their place. It’s a big city rivalry and it’s nice to have bragging rights against the city. You want to be the best team in the state, as well as the Big Ten. I’m excited to play Maryland and Rutgers because they’re new to the Big Ten.
What goals have you set for yourself personally this season?
Bring as much energy and good attitude as you possibly can every game, every practice. Everything else will fall into place if you do that. Our coach always says you can control those things: your attitude and your energy. If you have a bad shooting day, that’s okay; you’ll get it back the next day, just as long as you’re playing hard and giving it your all.
To us in the stands, it always seems like [head coach Joe McKeown] is very calm and collected, even in last-minute game situations. Do you guys on the team think that’s true and does that hold in the locker room and in practice? Do you think that’s effective?
Yeah, with Coach McKeown, you always know what to expect. It’s never crazy screaming at you, it’s more he expects something, and if he doesn’t get it out of you, he’ll tell you. He’s coached so many seasons, had so many wins [597 in his career, to be exact]; I think he’s been around the block a few times. In game situations, he’s pretty calm and he knows what he’s doing. Obviously, every game’s different than the ones he’s coached in the past, but we trust him. He’s a great basketball mind, a great coach.
What would you say is different about the team this year compared to last?
I think our focus is a lot better. I think last year we were really young, and our experience as players were sophomores and juniors, so now we got sophomores, juniors and seniors that have had a lot of time playing and more experience. Our off-season was great for team chemistry building. We went through a bunch of tough workouts together, and I think we’re mentally tougher. I think that’ll go really far in the season, closing out close games and stuff. I think our mental strength and focus is a lot better.
How do you think the team will fare in Big Ten play this year?
I think we’ll be better than we were last year. Our goal is always to win the Big Ten. I think we can compete with the best of them. We’re really excited to show what we have this year. To be the underdog usually in the Big Ten, it’s exciting to pull out those wins against teams who think they can beat you, because we can beat them this year.