Not much seems to be going right for Northwestern football right now. The team is headed for a second straight losing season. Games have been reduced to comedy. The coaching staff is under increasing pressure. And there's a stinging sense that things aren't going to get better anytime soon.
But the fall sports season hasn't been a total disaster at NU. In fact, it's been extremely successful, and still has the chance to be even better. Plus, looking ahead to the winter and spring, there's plenty to be optimistic about. Obviously football garners the most attention, but here are five other sports that you can and should be excited about:
On Sunday, Northwestern Field Hockey won its first Big Ten Tournament championship ever, upsetting top-seeded and nationally second-ranked Maryland 3-1 in the final in Ann Arbor, Mich. The title clinched the Wildcats an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they'll play Duke in a Round of 16 game on Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C.
B1G champs! pic.twitter.com/LTZrqtDkOb— Northwestern FH (@NUFHCats) November 9, 2014
The Wildcats have had a surprisingly successful season. They'll depart for Chapel Hill and the 16-team tournament with a 16-6 record overall, a 7-2 conference mark, and an impressive seven wins over ranked teams. Sophomore Dominique Masters leads the team with 15 goals and 38 points, while senior goalkeeper Maddy Carpenter has also been stellar and was named Big Ten Tournament MVP.
In the past, it's been tough to get excited about Northwestern basketball. But this year just might be different, especially if Friday's curtain-raiser scrimmage against McKendree was any indication.
TURN DOWN FOR WHAT AT NORTHWESTERN BASKETBALL! THIS AINT YOUR GRANDFATHERS CATS!— InsideNU (@insidenu) November 8, 2014
In all seriousness though, this team is going to be fun. It's probably not NCAA Tournament-caliber yet, but coach Chris Collins' first recruiting class has brought a new level of athleticism to the roster, and that athleticism will be on display right away. Both highly-touted local product Vic Law and fellow freshman Bryant McIntosh, who looked awesome on Friday, will make their Northwestern debuts this upcoming Friday as the Wildcats open their season at home against Houston Baptist.
The Wildcats lost their Big Ten quarterfinal against Indiana Sunday in a heartbreaking penalty shootout, but still should earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, which will kick off in nine days. NU finished joint-second in the Big Ten, level on points with Penn State and Ohio State and one off the pace of champion Maryland. The season highlights were overtime wins over the Nittany Lions and Terrapins at Lakeside Field.
This is a classic Tim Lenehan Northwestern team. Rigid at the back but unspectacular going forward, the Wildcats at times struggle to find offense. But senior goalkeeper Tyler Miller is excellent, and is a legitimate pro prospect, and the four defenders in front of him, led by senior center back Nikko Boxall, are disciplined and well-organized. That combination means the Wildcats can beat anybody on a given day, and makes them a threat to engineer an NCAA Tournament run.
It might be a few months too early to start getting excited about Northwestern Lacrosse, but nonetheless, Kelly Amonte-Hiller's squad should once again be among the top teams in the country. The Wildcats fell to Florida in the American Lacrosse Conference final and succumbed to Maryland in the NCAA Tournament semifinals last spring, but will be back for revenge in 2015.
Again, two months remain between now and the beginning of the Northwestern Women's Tennis season, but this is arguably the school's most under-appreciated athletic program. The Wildcats have won 16 straight Big Ten titles, with last year's conference crown coming by way of a thrilling third-set comeback in the decisive match of the final against Michigan. NU and coach Clair Pollard will look to make it 17 in a row this time around.