Northwest senior guard Kendey Eaton led the nation in free throw percentage at 93.5% in the 2018-19 basketball season. The Bearcats' first home game is Nov. 13 against Kansas Christian.

The clock on the scoreboard inside Rice Auditorium dwindled down in Wayne, Nebraska, Nov. 9, 2018, leading to an eventual 75-58 season-opening loss for Northwest women’s basketball.

Then-junior transfer guard Kendey Eaton made her Bearcat debut, putting up 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting. One day short of a full year later, the women, led by Eaton, will take on the same opponent at the University of Nebraska-Kearney tournament Nov. 8 but with different expectations.

“I think that just coming into these games, it’s a different expectation,” Eaton said. “We expect to win. Last year, I came in and didn’t really know what to expect. … This year, we’re kind of locked-in on what we can do together as a team and what we can accomplish this year.”

A scrimmage against the University of Missouri-Kansas City Oct. 29 gave second-year coach Austin Meyer his first look at the Bearcats in a real-game setting. What Meyer witnessed was his leading scorer from last season pick up where she left off. Eaton recorded 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting en route to a 69-58 loss to the ’Roos.

Despite being a team that finished 8-20 a season ago, Meyer said, the growth of the program to this point of the season has been obvious.

“(Watching last season) made me realize how much better we are at this point than we were last year, just the program as a whole,” Meyer said. “A lot of that has to do with the work our returners have put in … also the newcomers as well. (It’s) just a totally different feel, and we’re excited to get started.”

In those new faces to the program includes six true freshmen, along with one junior-transfer in Ellie Horn from Newton, Iowa. The highlight of the freshman class is perhaps Paityn Rau, a forward from Des Moines, Iowa.

Rau, rather successful before coming to Northwest, knows how to win and has done it a lot, Meyer said. The challenge for most programs would be getting a roster consisting of 17 players to mesh well. For the women, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“You would think, right?” Eaton said. “The girls that (Meyer) has brought in, they’re just high character people — they’re great people. It’s great when you bring in somebody who is not only talented but a great person and a great teammate. That’s gone a long way with our team, 17 doesn’t seem like that much to us because we all just click well.

Ahead of the game against Wayne State, followed by a contest with Minnesota-Crookston Nov. 9, the stakes aren’t as high for the women as they are for their counterparts — the Northwest men’s team. There’s no reigning national championship. There’s no target on the back of the team that’s projected to finish 10th in the MIAA, but there is a sense of flipping the script and getting to that same level. And with that, the expectations, Eaton said, are high for the women.

“It’d be nice getting off to a great start,” Meyer said. ‘There’s just a whole different level of confidence, knowing that we can compete, knowing that we can win.”

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