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Wildcat softball is back on the prowl

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In less than an hour, Northwestern will be firing the first pitch of the season, and there are plenty of reasons for optimism.

Stephen J. Carrera

After an impressive 2018 season, Northwestern softball returns again with high hopes for 2019.

Last season, the Wildcats were one of the hottest teams on campus, finishing with a 38-19 record, reaching the Big Ten championship, and making the regional final of the NCAA tournament. This year’s team will continue to hold itself to high standards but will have to do so after graduating seven seniors.

“You can’t really replace anyone or replace the spirit or energy someone brings,” senior Morgan Nelson said. “It’s really bringing out whatever energy you have within yourself. We’ve been focusing a lot on our individual mental game and our approach. I think you’re gonna see that the sophomore and freshman classes are really interesting. You’re gonna see them be really fun this year.”

Nelson is one of only three seniors on a team full of underclassmen. The Wildcats are bringing in seven freshman, including three top-50 recruits, and boasted the ninth-ranked recruiting class in the nation. Young talent will be crucial to Northwestern’s success in the coming season, leaving high expectations for such a decorated group.

“I think it’s important for our freshman to know that we don’t think about them as freshman,” Nelson said. “We have so much talent in that class. We’re really looking for them to step up. It’s not just the number two, three or four batters. We’re relying on our whole lineup here.”

In addition to the freshman class, Coach Kate Drohan will rely heavily on leadership from her returning players. Players like seniors Nelson, Kaley Winegarner, Lily Novak and sophomore Rachel Lewis will all play a big role in working toward another postseason run, especially on the offensive end. Lewis, who dominated offensively and finished eleventh in the nation with 64 RBIs, was recently selected to the to the Player of the Year watch list by USA Softball heading into the season.

On the defensive end, Northwestern is returning the bulk of its pitching unit, including Winegarner who missed most of last season due to injury.

“I really like our depth on the mound,” Drohan said. “I really like how our pitchers have developed over the course of the past few months, especially, and how they’re complimenting each other and really functioning as a unit within our team.”

Drohan hopes to see her team control the speed of the game and find a balance between handling plays defensively and putting pressure on other defenses.

Ultimately, the Wildcats have all the elements to make another post-season run this year. It will be a matter of execution.

“I wanna make it to the post season,” sophomore Kenna Wilkey said. “I think we have a really, really good chance of that, and I think we will…I think this team is ready for it, and we’re ready to attack.”

The Wildcats traveled to Fullerton, California this weekend to face off against Utah State, Pacific, Louisville, Loyola Marymount and Idaho State in the Titan Classic. Game 1, against Utah State, begins at noon today.