The 2010s provided many impressive campaigns and teams throughout all of campus. We decided to do some research and find the best Northwestern team seasons of the decade.
In an effort to recognize a wide range of sports and their successes, we decided to limit the number of years we could choose from each team to two. Otherwise, the top half of the list would be basically all women’s lacrosse! Let’s get into it.
No. 10: 2012 Men’s Soccer
A Big Ten Championship is always a milestone, and 2012 was the second straight year the men’s soccer team captured the regular season title. With a 13-6-4 record, Tim Lenahan’s squad won a B1G title for the second straight year and made it all the way to the Sweet 16.
The season’s peak was in the second round of the NCAA tournament when the Wildcats went on the road and upset seventh-ranked Marquette, 1-0.
Sophomore keeper Tyler Miller was once again the story for a team that gave up an average of .82 goals per game. The first team All-Big Ten goaltender played every minute of the season and logged 10 clean sheets, which ranks second in program history.
No. 9: 2016 Women’s Soccer
Consider a team that pitches 17 shutouts and gave up an average of .27 goals per game. Yes, that team certainly deserves to make this list. Those marks led the country, and the Wildcats were exquisite at home, winning ten times, drawing twice and losing...none!
Defense was clearly the story, but the team featured longtime NU cornerstones like Brenna Lovera, Kayla Sharples and Marissa Viggiano. Lovera tied for the team lead in goals with six despite playing in just 10 games. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include goalkeeper Lauren Clem, who helped make that .27 goals per game allowed a reality. The B1G goalie of the year earned third team All-American honors for her superb season.
Northwestern (16-3-4) ran all the way to the Sweet 16 for just the second appearance in program history and the first since 1998. Its three losses came to teams in the top 22 of RPI.
No. 8: 2014-15 Women’s Basketball
This year’s edition of the women’s basketball team has the best chance to dance since 2014-15, but topping that team’s resume won’t be easy. In its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997, Joe McKeown’s squad racked up 23 wins, with an impressive 13 of them coming in Big Ten play.
From a thrilling double overtime win over ranked crosstown rival DePaul to an eight-game conference winning streak near the end of the season, this was a team on a mission.
Led by leading scorer Nia Coffey, the ‘Cats were ranked in the top 25 for roughly the final month of the season. However, it was the blizzard defense allowing a mere 50.6 points per game that served as the backbone for the tournament bid. Had it not been for a late breakdown versus Arkansas in the opening round of the tourney, this team could have made a deep run.
No. 7: 2018 Football
Many of you probably want this higher on the list. In what was arguably Northwestern football’s best decade ever and clearly the most consistent, 2018 takes the tops among a plethora of good campaigns. The 10-3 2012, Gator Bowl-winning team that broke the 63-year streak of no bowl wins gave it a fight, but there was too much that happened in this season.
2018 was the season of comebacks. The season’s first few weeks and how the team overcame early season expectations makes what followed a mini-miracle itself. Until the first snap against Purdue, nobody really knew whether starting quarterback Clayton Thorson would be ready to play after tearing his ACL just nine months prior in the Music City Bowl. He was heroically there to take the season’s first snap and was clearly limited in his mobility throughout the season’s first month, in which the ‘Cats went 1-3.
Yet, about a month and a half later they had clinched the Big Ten West for the first time thanks to an incredible catch by Bennett Skowronek.
Now to those memorable comebacks. One of the most memorable was one down 14 to Nebraska in the fourth quarter on homecoming and assembling a 99-yard march down Ryan Field to tie it in the waning seconds of regulation before having backup, walk-on kicker Drew Luckenbaugh win it in OT.
And who could forget the furious third quarter rally in the Big Ten Championship, which felt like a party for NU fans despite the loss. Of course, to round out the memorable year was the physically largest comeback of all, the 20-3 halftime deficit that the ‘Cats surmounted with a 28-point third quarter in the Holiday Bowl.
No. 6: 2019 Softball
If nearly fifty wins isn’t enough to crack this list, I don’t know what is. A year after a resurgent 2018 campaign and a near upset win in the regional round of the NCAA tournament, this Wildcat team delivered on any and all expectations.
Led by National Freshman of the Year (!) pitcher Danielle Williams — 31-8, 1.55 ERA, 317 strikeouts — Kate Drohan’s squad created a fun mix of youth and experience on a team that ran through the Big Ten to a 21-2 conference record and 47 overall wins. To cap a season that featured a 20-game win streak, the sixteenth ranked ‘Cats hosted (and won) their first NCAA Tournament Regional since 2008, when they last reached the Women’s College World Series.
Was this team potentially a little ahead of schedule in terms of being so good? Maybe, and it was evident after their loss to no. 1 Oklahoma in the NCAA Super Regionals that there is another step to take, but the top pitching recruit in the country has enrolled in Evanston and expectations are sky high at the J.
No. 5: 2017-18 Fencing
It’s enough of an accomplishment for one team to produce an All-American, but this squad produced a staggering three. In arguably the best season in program history, NU racked up a record 47 match wins and three Wildcats — Pauline Hamilton, Sarah Filby and Yvonne Chart — earned All-American honors.
The fencing team had produced three All-Americans in a season just four previous times. For a program that has sustained a lot of success, 2016-17 served as a cut above the rest. NU set a school record of 47 wins and had the longest winning streak with 25 straight duel victories.
Zach Moss’ women also captured the fifth Midwest Fencing Conference title in program history, and the aforementioned All-Americans finished top 12 in their respective weapon category.
No. 4: 2016-17 Men’s Basketball
Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Crying kid meme. Nathan Taphorn’s touchdown pass to Dererk Pardon. The media constantly talking about Northwestern! What else could a ‘Cat want?
After a promising season the year prior, the air surrounding 2016-17 always had a special feeling to it. Starting fairly early in the season with a solid win over Wake Forest, students packed Welsh-Ryan and there were several special moments to come in the season that finally brought NU to the dance floor.
Where do I start? The Wildcats proved they were for real, beating no. 7 Wisconsin in Madison and topping Ohio State in Columbus for the first time since 1977. There was the 31-0 run against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament, and in the next game they used a 20-2 run to upend heavy favorite Maryland and make the semifinal.
Of course, there was the aforementioned Taphorn to Pardon, which essentially secured the NCAA Tournament bid and the below frenzy.
The fun didn’t end immediately, though. Who doesn’t love when Skip Bayless can get beat by Northwestern in March Madness?
No. 3: 2016-17 Women’s Golf
Women’s golf has been competitive for much of the decade, and the 2016-17 season was special. At the Big Ten Championship, the ‘Cats finished second, with junior Hannah Kim winning the Mary Fossum Award (given to the Big Ten golfer with the lowest season stroke average relative to par).
The Wildcats soon moved on to NCAA Regionals, where they, once again, finished second out of 18 teams, good enough to advance to the Championships. Once they got there, the ‘Cats really shined, cruising to the quarterfinals and continuing to make noise in match play.
In the quarterfinals, Northwestern took on Kent State, defeating them by a score of 3-2. In the semis, the ‘Cats took down USC by the same score, this time thanks to a dramatic late comeback. It wasn’t until the final of the NCAA Championships that NU fell to Arizona State by a final score of 3-1-1 They may not have won, but Northwestern’s phenomenal run created a moment truly worthy of being top three on this list.
No. 2: 2011 Women’s Lacrosse
Now that we are nearly eight years removed from the last national title, many newer/younger Wildcat fans may not understand the dominance that Northwestern lacrosse had at the turn of the decade. Sure, it’s been a perennial top 10 program, but the 2011 national championship team made it Kelly Amonte Hiller’s sixth natty in seven years.
Unreal. The ‘Cats racked up a 21-2 overall record, featuring a staggering 20 wins against top 20-ranked teams and 10 versus top ten opponents. The final victory came in tense fashion against no. 1 Maryland in the national championship, when NU edged the Terps 8-7. The centerpiece of the team was Tewaaraton Award and Lacrosse Honda Sports Award winner Shannon Smith. The Long Island native helped her team win the title on her home soil with four goals, including the game winner.
And finally...if you didn’t know what was coming next...
No. 1: 2012 Women’s Lacrosse
Six is good, seven is better. There really isn’t that much on paper to distinguish this team from the year before since they were both national champions and equally as impressive in doing so. This time, another 21-2 Northwestern team scored eight goals to dispatch another lacrosse blue blood — Syracuse — to win its seventh national title in eight years.
Smith hadn’t gone anywhere, but her teammate Taylor Thornton was the Lacrosse Honda Sports Award winner and a Tewaaraton finalist. NU’s only two losses came to a Florida team that was ranked in the top five both times they faced off.
The seven national championships put them second behind Maryland (10) in total titles.
2012 Football (Gator Bowl-winning team)
2014 Field Hockey (B1G Tournament Champions)
2018 Women’s Tennis (B1G Tournament Finalists and NCAA Tournament Round of 16 berth)