From the full-court pass heard ‘round the North Shore of Chicago to national championships to the first bowl win in over 60 years, the 2010s gave Northwestern fans plenty of reasons to celebrate and some reasons to pull their hair out.
But how do each of the calendar years rank when considering overall success of Northwestern’s athletic programs? We went ahead and ranked them for you! Thoughts, suggestions, comments? You know where the comment board is.
No. 10: 2013
Successes: Field Hockey regular season B1G title, College GameDay, PRETENDING THE GATOR BOWL HAPPENED IN 2012 DEAL WITH IT
We expectedly start with the year that ends with unlucky number 13. This calendar year was full of disappointment all across the board for Northwestern. Things got off to a rough start in the winter as the men’s basketball team sputtered to a 13-19 (4-14 B1G) overall record, while the women finished below .500 as well. Spring 2013 marked Bill Carmody’s final stint in Evanston after 13 years with the ‘Cats as the Wildcat men saw their four-year streak of qualifying for postseason NIT basketball snapped.
Spring didn’t have much to offer either, with both baseball/softball missing out on the postseason, and women’s lacrosse seeing their quest for a three-peat fall just short with a disappointing loss in the Final Four. Women’s tennis also saw a promising nine-game win streak to close the regular disappointingly snapped with a first round exit in the NCAA Team Championships.
Field Hockey gave NU fans something to cheer about in the fall with a regular season title, but its season also ended in frustration as it crashed out of the B1G tournament with an upset loss, thus ruining dreams of a first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. Women’s golf also split a Big Ten crown, but greater success on the national stage wouldn’t come until later in the decade.
And as far as football goes...well, the 2013 season was certainly a season. College GameDay happened. Everything after that we can throw away forever.
No. 9: 2010
Successes: David Lipsky wins individual golf Big Ten Championship, College GameDay at Wrigley!
Northwestern teams started off the decade with a tough go of it in the postseason.
January 1, 2010 saw Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats come agonizingly close to snapping a 60+ year bowless-win streak with an overtime loss against Auburn. Things got even worse for NU Sports as Kelly Amonte Hiller’s laxers failed to win the national title for the first time IN SIX YEARS, falling just short to Maryland by a score of 13-11 in the championship.
The highlight of 2010 was undoubtedly current pro golfer David Lipsky taking home the individual Big Ten crown with a phenomenal 3-under in 72 holes.
No. 8: 2014
Outside of 2019, 2014 was probably the second worst year of the decade for revenue sports. With a second straight football losing record and an underwhelming start to the Chris Collins era, demons of the past began to set in for NU football and men’s basketball. Joe McKeown’s team made a nice run in the 2014 WNIT, but it wouldn’t be until 2015 when the Wildcats finally cracked into the Big Dance.
The highlight of the year was most definitely Field Hockey’s extraordinary upset run to the Big Ten Championship. Three wins over three ranked teams sent them to the national tourney for the first time since 1994. Sticking with non-revs, 2014 would also be the last year that the Volleyball squad finished with a record of .500 or better for the decade. Not much else to note outside of that.
No. 7: 2019
Successes: WNIT runner-ups, The Evanston Regional, Mick McCall gets fired
This bottom tier for 2019 may be a product of recency bias, but let’s not forget how awful some of these past few months have been for NU sports on the national stage. The worst football season in decades, and Chris Collins just pulled off the unthinkable trifecta of losing to Merrimack/Radford/Hartford in the same season??? Unbelievable stuff.
Thankfully, the women were here to save us in 2019, with some unforgettable moments that should not be overlooked. From NUWBB’s thrilling run to the WNIT Final to softball hosting and WINNING the Evanston Regional, the year had its fair share of great moments as well. The first super regional appearance in 11 years? Danielle freakin’ Williams! Electric.
No. 6: 2015
Successes: 10-2 Football regular season, NUWBB to the Tourney, Women’s Soccer NCAA Tournament Berth
Thought 2017 was the first time an NU basketball team made the Big Dance this decade? Wrong. Led by the high-scoring Nia Coffey, NUWBB made the national field for the first time this century after an impressive 23-win regular season. Women’s soccer also made some noise in 2015 with a run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after qualifying for the first time since 1998.
Pat Fitzgerald’s 2015 squad was also arguably his most successful. A 10-2 regular season record had the Wildcats ranked No. 13 (!) by the College Football Playoff at the end of the calendar year. Fitz worse shorts and NU upset Stanford. The 44-6 Outback Bowl slaughtering didn’t come until 2016!
No. 5: 2016
Successes: Women’s Soccer Sweet 16 and Big Ten ‘ship, softball consistency, a winning bball season
Holy wow this video gives me major goosebumps.
After securing an NCAA Tournament berth in 2015, women’s soccer built on their success with a landmark 2016 campaign that saw them win the Big Ten for the first time in program history and make an epic run to the NCAA Sweet 16. Absolute scenes.
Overall, 2016 was a solid year across the board for NU athletics. Both tennis teams earned top 20 seeds at the NCAA Championships and won their first round matchups in the spring, while Kate Drohan’s squad got back to the NCAA Softball Tournament for the second year in a row.
Chris Collins ended the 2015-16 season with his first winning record in Evanston, and NU football got back to postseason winning ways thanks to a memorable Justin Jackson performance in the Pinstripe Bowl. 2016 was good to the ‘Cats, but things would get even better in the coming years.
No. 4: 2018
Successes: Women’s tennis 11-0 Big Ten season and Sweet 16, winning the Big Ten West, shirtless McCall, Holiday Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Holiday Bowl
Told you things would get better! Who could forget 2018?
We can start with the obvious as 2018 Northwestern football stole our hearts with the unthinkable “lose to Akron then sweep the Big Ten West and almost make the Rose Bowl” narrative, but this calendar year was about way more than that.
Women’s tennis secured their second Big Ten regular season title of the decade with a ridiculous 11-0 conference season, and they followed it up with a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAAs.
Softball continued to find success on the diamond, laying the groundwork for its monumental 2019 regional win with a near upset in the NCAA regional round.
Capping the calendar year off with a New Year’s Eve win at the Holiday Bowl — one of the most memorable NU victories of the entire decade — put a golden seal on a great year for NU sports as the beloved, never-ever frustrating Clayton Thorson era came to an end.
No. 3: 2011
Successes: National Champions!!!!!!!!
After coming agonizingly close to a sixth straight national title in 2010, Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad got back to their winning ways and avenged the 2010 loss by picking up another national crown in 2011.
Outside of lacrosse casually picking up their sixth title in seven years and cementing themselves as one of the greatest collegiate dynasties of the 21st century thus far, it wasn’t too notable of a year for NU athletics. Bill Carmody’s team made the deepest postseason run of his NU tenure, but ultimately fell in the NIT quarterfinals with a narrow loss to Washington State.
But seriously, rarely do Wildcat teams reach the highest ranks of their respective sports, so keeping a year in which an NU team did so outside of the Top 3 would be nothing short of disrespectful.
No. 2: 2012
Successes: Another lacrosse natty, Men’s soccer back-to-back titles, 10-3 football season
Wow this was a fantastic year. So the lacrosse team won again, making that back-to-back titles (and seven in eight years) for by far the most successful sport in NU history.
That being said, there were plenty of other successes to go around in 2012. It may feel like ages ago, but Pat Fitzgerald’s 2012 may have been the best of this decade, and perhaps his best ever. That 10-3 squad snapped Northwestern’s bowl drought (technically in 2013), giving NU football fans a memorable season to celebrate.
But the 2012 success came far before the fall football. Men’s soccer winning a B1G title and following it up with a run to the NCAA Third Round. Softball coming oh so close to to knocking off Texas in the Austin Regional.
No. 1: 2017
Successes: Nate Taphorn and also everything
This is definitely a pro-revenue sport take from me, but 2017 checks all the boxes for NU athletic success, and for that reason, it takes the No. 1 slot in my rankings. No team walked away with a national title like 2011 or 2012, however, I still don’t believe anything can match seeing the way Northwestern rose to the national stage during the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Given the struggles of the past few seasons, that 2016-17 season feels like ages ago, but the memories from that run somehow remain so vivid.
And I’d be remiss if I failed to mention all the other great successes that followed the rest of the athletic department in 2017. More postseason success for women’s soccer and both tennis squads. Baseball (baseball!) with a amazing run to the Big Ten title game. Unprecedented fencing success. Women’s golf to the natty.
2017 had it all, and thus, it’s my number one.