An abrupt ending, didn’t spoil Abbie Wolf’s senior year on Northwestern University’s women’s basketball team — a season she described as “a Cinderella story.”
A Greenwich High School graduate, Wolf earned a starting spot on the Wildcats this winter, after aiding the team off the bench the previous three seasons.
Wolf, a 6-foot-4 center, averaged a team-high 6.6 rebounds per game, was fourth on the squad in scoring (11.3 points a game), shot 52.7 percent from the floor and was the Wildcats’ leader in blocked shots (44).
Her presence at center helped spark Northwestern to its most successful season in decades. The Wildcats registered a record of 26-4 and won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title for the first time since 1990, with a 16-2 mark in the conference.
Coached by Joe McKeown, Wolf and the Wildcats were entering the NCAA Tournament as a projected No. 3 seed and were poised to make a strong postseason run. Then, like all teams, Northwestern’s season came to a sudden end.
Due to the health threat regarding the coronavirus, the NCAA canceled the Division I women’s and men’s basketball tournaments, along with each school’s remaining winter and spring championships.
“The season came to a bittersweet ending,” said Wolf, who graduated from Greenwich in 2016. “It felt like we were on top of the world, having won the regular season championship. We were the three seed in the tournament and we believed we could gone super far. It was very upsetting to hear the news, that our season was over, it was like a dagger to the heart. But we are trying to be thankful for everything we accomplished this season.”
Wolf, indeed, had plenty to be thankful for during her standout senior season. She recently received Big Ten Honorable Mention accolades for playing a pivotal role in Northwestern’s winningest campaign.
Reflecting on her final season as a member of the Wildcats, Wolf fondly mentioned the team’s 75-58 victory over visiting Illinois on Feb. 29 — a triumph that gave the team a share of the Big 10 regular-season championship. Wolf certainly did her part in the significant win, scoring a team-high 21 points, while grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots.
“It was also Senior Night, so of course, it was an emotional game,” Wolf said of the Wildcats’ win against Illinois. “It was electric and I felt like I was playing some of the best basketball of my life. They kept feeding me in the post and I wound up having one of the best games of my career, which couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The Wildcats’ Big 10-clinching triumph over Illinois was one of numerous matchups in which Wolf rose to the important occasion for her squad.
“Abbie bailed us out of several games over the course of the season said McKeown, who recently concluded his 12th season at the helm. “She had a double-double (points, rebounds) a number of times this season, which is hard to do in the Big 10. Against Illinois, she had three and-ones (a basket, followed by a foul shot) in a row, which is something I’ve never seen in my 40 years of watching basketball.”
Northwestern’s 2019-2020 season saw Wolf achieve double figures in points in 21 of the squad’s 30 games, including a career-high 24-point effort during a 61-56 victory against Purdue on Jan. 21.
Her role as the Wildcats’ starting center came after receiving extended minutes off the bench as a junior.
“It is easier when you are starting,” said Wolf, also the team’s leader in offensive rebounds this season (86). “I think some of it has to do with confidence, not thinking as much on the floor and letting the game come to you. After being the seventh man off the bench my junior year, that really gave me confidence. I knew our coaches trusted me to succeed and I was prepared when I went out on the court.”
Wolf, who was recognized as an Academic Big 10 selection her junior year, began finding her niche on the squad as a last winter.
“I gained a lot of strength through the years and I felt like I was pushing people around a little bit more my junior year,” she said. “I simplified my game from my freshman year to my junior and senior years too. I started relying more on hook shots and drop steps, while learning how to be efficient in the post.”
For several seasons, Wolf played behind center/power forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, a 2019 Northwestern graduate. Kunaiyi-Akpanah currently plays professionally in Italy.
“She was an extremely hard-working center, who could dunk and she was a very physical player,” Wolf said of Kunaiyi-Akpanah. “When I was battling her in the post during practice, I learned how to play against stronger people. It definitely paid off. I wouldn’t have had as much success without her preparing me to play.”
Entering her senior season, Wolf was ready for her expanded role.
“I knew I had a big void to fill, after we graduated our starting center,” she said. “I was ready to rebound, run, defend and I was focused on doing the little things to help the team win.”
McKeown saw Wolf sharpen her skills, especially as a senior.
“Her ability to score from different places on the court stood out the most,” said McKeown, who visited Wolf at Greenwich High, while recruiting her during her senior year. “She was comfortable with her back to the basket and from the perimeter and she became a great screener. She also did a great job of finishing around the basket.”
Indeed, Wolf wasn’t surprised by Northwestern’s success on the hardwood this winter.
“We knew we had something special brewing with a lot of young talent and we only graduated one senior from last year,” she said. “Nothing was stopping us this year, that’s what we believed.”
Since the NCAA tournament was canceled, Northwestern’s final game wound up being its 67-59 loss to Michigan in the quarterfinal-round of the Big 10 Tournament on March 6. Northwestern defeated Michigan twice during the regular season.
“Most of the team was struggling that game, it was just not our day,” Wolf said. “After that, we were looking forward to a week of rest and then playing in the NCAA Tournament, none of us talked about it being our last game. As a senior, you want to know when it is going to be your last time on the floor. That’s the hardest part.”
Following the game, Wolf had a Greenwich High School reunion of sorts. Emily Anderson, a manager for Michigan’s women’s team, met with Wolf. Wolf and Anderson were members of the Cardinals’ 2015-2016 girls basketball team that reached the CIAC Class LL Tournament final at Mohegan Sun.
With her graduation from Northwestern approaching, Wolf is considering a professional basketball career overseas.
“It is very uncertain now with how the travel situation is, but I am in the process of finding an agent,” Wolf said. “There are going to be a lot of combines and showcases. I know I have the skills to play overseas and I would like to give it a try.”
Added McKeown: “I think there will be plenty of opportunities for her to play in Europe. “They are mostly looking for post players, so I think she’ll have some places to choose from.”
The Wildcats’ coach watched Wolf emerge into one of the team’s leaders.
“She inspired her teammates by the way she played and how hard she worked — she had fun out there every day,” McKeown said. “Wolf spent time after practice working on her shot and footwork, which set a good example for the younger players on the team.”
A journalism major and business minor (marketing certificate), Wolf especially enjoys writing and telling people’s stories. During her junior year at Northwestern, she spent 10 weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, as part of the school’s journalism residency abroad program.
She was employed for Property 360 of Independent Media — a publication mainly focused on real estate issues.
“Traveling to South Africa was the highlight of my college experience,” Wolf said. “It was very challenging working in a foreign country and I had the trip of a lifetime.”
While in South Africa, Wolf visited a youth basketball team one day during a Youth Day Classic event. She talked to the group and demonstrated helpful drills.
“It was really great to connect with people from different backgrounds through the sport,” she said. “I enjoyed working with the community.”
With her collegiate athletic career over, Wolf happily reflected on her time on the squad, especially her special senior season.
“It felt like a Cinderella story my senior year,” she said. “I sat on the bench my first two years and I didn’t know if I was going to have an impact season like I thought I might have. Then for us to become one of the best teams in the country this year was incredible, I felt so happy for my team. Our team built something special and I’m proud of that. After we won the Big 10 championship, we received our hats and T-Shirt. No one can take that special moment away from us.”