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Year in Review: The 2016-2017 Inside NU Awards

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It was a year to remember for Northwestern sports.

NCAA Basketball: Selection Sunday-Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-2017 academic year will be remembered by Northwestern sports fans forever. In the span of nine months, Northwestern won a bowl game and the Big Ten women’s soccer title, made the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time, and finished as the runner-up in the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships and the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.

Also, once again, Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

To honor and look back at this remarkable stretch, we present the 2016-17 Inside NU Awards.

Best Moment:

Honorable Mention: Vic Law’s putback dunk vs. Gonzaga

“Law is there, and we got a ballgame!” Goosebumps.

3rd place: Northwestern wins the Pinstripe Bowl

Under the lights at Yankee Stadium, as Pat Fitzgerald and his players received their trophy, you couldn’t help but think about how far this team had come. This was a team that had been 0-2 after losses to MAC and FCS teams, and now was celebrating after taking down one of the 20 best teams in the country on a national stage. It was a testament to the coaching abilities of Fitz and his staff, sure, but also the resiliency of the players and the work they put in to turn their season around. After the debacle against Tennessee on New Year’s Day, it felt pretty good to be ending the year on a high note. It also felt like a sign of better things to come.

2nd place: The Selection Show in Welsh-Ryan

CBS and the Bracket Gods just had to put us in the final section, right? Despite the agonizing wait, being in Welsh-Ryan Arena at the exact moment Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament was awesome. There will never be a greater explosion of joy for a No. 8 seed.

The videos are better than words.

1st place: Tap to Pardon

“The Pass” is one of the five most important individual plays in Northwestern sports history. The stunning win over Michigan essentially sealed Northwestern’s first NCAA Tournament berth. The play itself is unforgettable. Taphorn heaved. Pardon caught, Michigan’s defense fell asleep, and the rest, as they say was history.

The rock was broken. The curse was rescinded. What else is there to say?

Best Game:

Honorable Mentions:

3rd place: Women’s golf vs. USC

Yes, women’s golf came back from losing three matches with three holes remaining to advancing to the NCAA Championship Match.

I’ll just quote Ben Goren here:

In conditions that made some of the best teams in the country look like they were at the Somme and not Sugar Grove, Northwestern wiped the floor with the competition. They came back from the dead against USC with the sauciest 10-footer walk-in this side of Patrick Reed.

Pure shot after pure shot, early tee grab after early tee grab, 30-foot bomb after 30-foot bomb, Northwestern walked around like they owned the place. It was so damn cool. They played like a team that had nowhere to run.

The fans were so into it too...At least 90% of the fans who were at Rich Harvest Farms for the final round were wearing some kind of purple...That was really cool. We’re a women’s golf school now.

2nd place: Football at Michigan State

Northwestern football played a number of crazy games in its 6-3 finish to the 2016 season. The 38-31 win at Iowa comes to mind. So does the near-upset of Ohio State at the Horseshoe and, of course, the Pinstripe Bowl. None of those games can top the thrilling rollercoaster ride that was Northwestern-Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.

The Wildcats were riding a wave of momentum after taking down the Hawkeyes, but were still 2-3 and in desperate need of wins. They took a punch to the face right out of the gates, falling behind 14-0 after a Clayton Thorson pick-six. Unfazed, the offense went to work behind big days from the Big Three of Justin Jackson (188 yards, 2 TDs), Clayton Thorson (27-35, 281, 3 TDs) and Austin Carr (130 yards, 2 TDs). Aided by a Joe Gaziano murder, they went on a 33-3 run and seemingly took control of the game. Then back-to-back long touchdown passes from Tyler O’Connor to R.J. Shelton made it a 33-31 game and things looked dicey. That lasted approximately 3 minutes. Solomon Vault took the ensuing kickoff to the house and Northwestern held on in the fourth quarter for an exhausting 54-40 win.

1st place: Northwestern vs. Gonzaga

Throw out the first half. Flush it down the memory hole. The second half of the Northwestern/Gonzaga game was an exhilarating tour de force of emotions. While the Vanderbilt and Michigan games were dramatic, the intensity was nothing compared to taking on a No. 1 seed and nearly winning. The combination of Northwestern being a true underdog, the amazing fight back (see Law’s dunk above) and the awful call made this a game to remember forever. While it wasn’t the first time we saw this team prove how good it was, that second half was when Northwestern basketball fully arrived on the national map as a team that could play with anyone in the country.

Most Valuable Northwestern athlete:

Honorable Mentions: Justin Jackson The Ballcarrier, Clayton Thorson, Sanjay Lumpkin, National Champion Olivia Rosendahl, Lauren Clem, Hannah Kim, Aubrey Roberts, Strong Kirchheimer, Shelby Fredericks, Christina Esposito, Joe Hoscheit, Cooper Wetherbee

3rd place: Nia Coffey

It’s a true shame that Nia Coffey, one of the two best players in Northwestern women’s basketball history, only went to a single NCAA Tournament. Coffey was underappreciated in her dominance, mostly because she played on three pretty bad teams in four years. Still, her senior year line of 20 points and 10 rebounds per game deserves some recognition, and she almost single-handedly kept Northwestern in contention for a Tournament bid. Oh yeah, she also became the first Northwestern basketball player ever to be a first-round pick when she went No. 5 in the WNBA Draft.

2nd place: Bryant McIntosh

(enormous sigh) #BMAC4THEDIME, Y’ALL!

Here’s a list of games Northwestern definitely loses without Bryant McIntosh:

Wake Forest. Ohio State. Wisconsin. Rutgers (at home). Vanderbilt.

There are plenty of others that would’ve been close, too. Despite all the well-deserved flak he got early on for his shooting woes, B-Mac came through time and time again when he was needed. The team went as he went, and he stepped up and led the Wildcats to the promised land.

1st place: Austin Carr

For the entire season, Northwestern’s offense ran through Austin Carr. From a scant 16 catches in 2015, Carr exploded for 90 catches, 1247 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He became a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award for the best receiver in college football. His meteoric rise earned him a deal with the New England Patriots.

Carr may not have been the “best” overall athlete that Northwestern had this year, but he was certainly the most valuable. There is no way Northwestern would have come close to 7 wins and a Pinstripe Bowl victory without his help. Heck, they may have only won three games. For that, we’re giving Carr the nod for most valuable athlete.

Best Atmosphere: Basketball vs. Purdue

The last game ever played at the old Welsh-Ryan Arena featured the most electric atmosphere in the building’s history. Jim Nantz and the rest of the CBS crew were there, providing the feel of a big-time college basketball game. And the Northwestern fans, especially the student body, turned out in full force to support their team. There wasn’t an empty seat in the arena, and students were actually turned away after the sections behind the baskets (and the standing room between decks) were completely filled. In the minutes leading up to tip-off, I honestly couldn’t believe how loud it was. The stands were shaking. This was a school and a fan base that had completely fallen in love with a basketball team and was making that known. It was incredible. The game itself was remarkably fun, but the outcome was an afterthought. It was all about celebrating the seniors, celebrating Welsh-Ryan, and celebrating a special team.

Most Improved Player(s): Clayton Thorson and Scottie Lindsey

Forgive us for settling on a tie. These might not have been the two best players on their respective teams, but they were almost certainly their most important. Without the massive jumps each took from their first two seasons (one of which was a redshirt year for Thorson) to their third, neither of their teams would’ve been able to accomplish what they did.

Thorson’s development and rapport with Carr was crucial to the football team getting hot down the stretch. He set the Northwestern single-season record for touchdown passes one year after looking like a shaky freshman all year long.

Thorson, 2015: 150-295 (51%), 1522 yards, 7 TDs, 9 INTs, 5.2 YPA

Thorson, 2016: 280-478 (58%), 3182 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs, 6.7 YPA

Lindsey, who showed flashes of potential as an underclassman, put it together on both ends as a junior and was the team’s best player for the first 20 games of the season, scoring in double figures every night. His importance was shown by Northwestern’s 1-3 record when he went down with mono. His return was crucial to the Wildcats’ postseason success.

Lindsey, 2015-16 averages: 18.9 minutes, 6.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals

Lindsey, 2016-17 averages: 30.6 minutes, 14.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1 steal

Best GIF: Chris Collins reaction to the goaltending explanation

This leads in nicely to our next award...

Worst Call: IT WAS F***ING GOALTENDING, ARE YOU BLIND?

HIS HAND IS IN THE CYLINDER. HIS HAND IS IN THE CYLINDER. HIS HAND IS IN THE CYLINDER. HIS HAND IS IN THE CYLINDER. HIS HAND IS IN THE CYLINDER.

The only positive note from this play is that it brought us this:

Best Highlight Play: Kyle Queiro one-handed INT

Remember when all of the DBs were successfully predicting their interceptions? It happened three times!! That was wild. This was the coolest one.

Honorable mentions: The Gaziano safety, The Pass, Vault’s kickoff return TD

Most Emotional Moment: Northwestern women’s basketball vs. Indiana

I’m still not sure how this game happened, but it did. Five days after the death of their teammate Jordan Hankins, Northwestern women’s basketball took the court at Welsh-Ryan Arena to face Indiana. The game itself did not matter. For a community in deep mourning, it was an opportunity to come together and honor Jordan Hankins’ memory through the game she loved.

Northwestern won the game, I guess, if that matters. The Wildcats were buoyed by 13 points from Amber Jamison, Hankins’ best friend on the team, and a special fan atmosphere.

Christen Inman said: “Our decision to go out on the court was really just about making her proud and knowing that she’s watching us today. We played well for her. We won this game for her.”

For the rest of the season, all of Northwestern’s athletes wore a “JH5” patch to honor Hankins’ memory.

Worst Loss: Illinois State 9, Northwestern 7

Inside NU sometimes has a reputation for being a pack of Debbie downers, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing, redeeming about watching Northwestern’s soul-destroying, 9-7 loss to Illinois State.

In the last FCS game that Northwestern will ever play, the team laid the egg of all eggs. The offense scored seven points. The offensive line was shredded by Illinois State’s defensive line. The defense played well, but then gave up the critical drive at the end of the game with hardly any resistance.

How do you lose to Illinois State? How? Illinois State wasn’t even good! The Redbirds went 6-6 and lost in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.

When the game-winning field goal clanked off the upright to seal Northwestern’s most humiliating loss in years, some may have wondered if Northwestern’s luck had run dry forever. Thankfully, it was just a blip.

Honorable Mentions: Home blowout losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin (football), the aforementioned Illinois and Indiana games (basketball), Northwestern men’s tennis’ against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, women’s basketball...a lot of times, NU lax vs. Maryland (x2)

Best Moment You May Have Missed: Northwestern wins its first Big Ten Women’s Soccer title

In 2011, women’s soccer head coach Michael Moynihan arrived to a team in disarray. Northwestern women’s soccer was irrelevant. It hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1998. It won two games in the year before Moynihan arrived.

Success did not happen overnight, but women’s soccer showed some progress with an NCAA Tournament bid in 2015. Then, in 2016, Northwestern won a Big Ten title in women’s soccer for the first time. It was a three-way split with Minnesota and Rutgers, but Northwestern clearly deserved to be there. The team went 16-3-4, riding insane defense and excellent goalkeeping from Lauren Clem to the Big Ten title and the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Next year, you should be watching. In fact, you should be watching everything (or at least following along with us at Inside NU). This is an incredible stretch for Northwestern athletics, and you don’t want to miss a second of it.

Let’s hope 2017-18 is just as fun.