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Time to reflect and build

Faced with a season full of unique and unusual challenges, Northwestern softball made the most of their situation.

A positive year to build on for Northwestern softball
Laya Hartman

The 2021 season was one unlike any other. As a team, we faced unprecedented situation after unprecedented situation as we tried to play amidst a worldwide pandemic. Together our team was put to the test to keep ourselves in a bubble as much as we could — daily PCR and antigen testing, not being allowed to play teams out of our conference and playing 4-to-6 games every weekend. While any program understandably could have looked at these obstacles as burdensome negatives, we — the Northwestern softball team — chose to look at them in a positive light. All of the sacrifices we made as a team only brought us closer together and made us stronger as individuals.

Our season began in February at the Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex site in Leesburg, Florida, where we opened up with six games against three Big Ten teams. This would be our first test against outside opponents in over 330 days, and after months of only being able to play against each other, we were ready to see how we matched up in comparison to our conference peers.

The opening weekend we went 6-0 and flew home knowing that we had something special. That momentum carried us into our second weekend where we played two more Big Ten teams and finished 5-1. It was those games that served as the first glimpse the softball world got of just how special Morgan Newport was, as she hit her first walk-off home run of the season against Ohio State.

That game is when the phrase, “I choose us”, came alive for out team, conveying the belief it held in every one of my teammates’ hearts that we were never out of the game.

Morgan Newport had a year of walk-off homeruns for her final season
Ryan Kuttler

We returned to Evanston where we opened up play on our home field with a four-game series sweep of Wisconsin. For almost half the team, it was our first time playing at home due to the 2020 season being cut short, and we quickly learned the remarkable feeling that comes along with playing on the “J”.

The rest of the season had moments of exceptional highs and challenging lows. We learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way, learning how to stand back up and keep fighting after an opponent knocks you down. That’s what I’m most proud of with this team, that we had the resiliency to never give up. That fight we maintained all season long eventually punched us a ticket to the NCAA tournament, making us one of only three Big Ten teams to do so.

While we may have fallen a bit short toward our goal of a Big Ten title and making it to the World Series, we showed everyone just how close we are to reaching it. We as a team know what we are capable of, we know how just how close we are in those bigger games to accomplishing our goals, just a couple of hits away in each of them. The reality is that the ball did not fall our way. At least not yet.

I am confident that this season left us hungry and motivated to do everything we can during this off-season to take the next step. We want to reach our goals next season, and we will.

Ryan Kuttler