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ROUNDTABLE: Outstanding 2022 fall athlete

The Dutch Dynamo was phenomenal, but she was far from the only Northwestern athlete to stand out.

Northwestern Field Hockey vs. Maryland during the Semifinals of the NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship at Nancy Stevens Field at the George J. Sherman Complex on November 18, 2022 in Storrs, Connecticut
Photo by Ryan Kuttler/Northwestern Athletics

Autumn was an exceptional time for (most) Northwestern sports. Field Hockey went to the national championship and stood just 90 seconds away from going to overtime and potentially repeating as champs, Women’s Soccer reached the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Sweet 16 behind its best season in school history and Cross Country made it to the NCAA Championships race for the first time in 20 years. Across the board, there were some phenomenal individual performances that contributed to this success; here are some of Inside NU’s favorites:

Gavin Dorsey: F Josie Aulicino

If you thought Aulicino was fantastic last season, the junior turned in an even better 2022 campaign. The forward notched career highs with nine goals and 10 assists, and also was trusted with a much larger role in the offense, leading the team in shots (60), shots on goal (37) and was first among players with double-digit shots in shot-on-goal percentage (61.7%). Aulicino’s outstanding season ranks her fourth in season goals, second in season assists and third in season points. Additionally, she’s also moving up in the record books in career stats, as she’s now second in assists and fourth in points with a year to go.

Most importantly, Aulicino contributed to Northwestern’s best team in school history. The ‘Cats reached the No. 5 ranking while also tying the school record in wins and breaking Northwestern’s longest win and unbeaten streak, and managed to make it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before meeting the unstoppable force of No. 1 UCLA. A big factor in the team’s success was Aulicino, and the Wildcats are lucky to have her back for one more year.

Iggy Dowling: Rachel McCardell, cross country

One could argue McCardell actually had a better season last year, when she finished third at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship and took down Minnesota’s Bethany and Megan Hasz, who are now both professional athletes with the Boston Athletic Association. Regardless, the grad student still had an awesome 2022, finishing seventh at the Big Ten Championships to earn her second straight All-Big Ten First Team nod (only the second runner in NU history to do so) to lead the ‘Cats to their best conference finish in 36 years.

McCardell then put up another top 10 finish at this year’s Midwest Regional to help send Northwestern to its first national championship in two decades. Jill Miller’s squad had more depth this year than any other in recent memory, yet McCardell was the team’s first finisher in every race she ran. She caps off a stellar career in Evanston having led possibly the best team in program history.

Bradley Locker: GK Annabel Skubisz

In Northwestern field hockey’s quest for a repeat of the national championship, two mainstays were consistent forces on opposite ends of the turf: Bente Baekers and Skubisz. While Baekers was pacing the conference on the offensive side, Skubisz very quietly emerged as one of the better goalies in the country. The junior was tied for 13th in the country in save percentage (77.6%) and was named to both the National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-West Team and the NCAA All-Tournament Team.

Cumulatively, Northwestern never ceded more than four goals in a game this season en route to a consecutive final appearance. While NU’s defense was superb, Skubisz’s efforts were tremendous from late August to late November. The goalie was particularly stout in crunch time, staving off shot after shot in the NCAA Tournament to force shootouts and limit foes.

John Olsen: CB Ethan Dudley

Once again, I feel obligated to provide some men’s soccer representation in this roundtable, so I had to decide between Ethan Dudley and Jason Gajadhar. Dudley, a graduate transfer from FGCU, ended up edging it for me due to his season-long contribution and consistency. He played the most minutes of any Wildcat, provided multiple key goals (as a defender) and earned the captain’s armband, a testament to his leadership. In a season that featured a lot of challenges and disappointments, he was a rare bright spot.

Margaret Fleming: OH Hanna Lesiak

Lesiak was a standout at the net and in the back row to help the ‘Cats toward their winningest season in the past decade. She led the team with 27 aces, was second in kills and third in digs. She recorded a career bests per set in digs, assists and blocks, and tied last season in kills per set. Lesiak was also one of the biggest energy sources on the court, slamming down end-of-match kills and enthusiastically lifting her teammates up in the center-court huddle. The six-rotation player celebrated her senior night in a sweep over Illinois, but still has remaining eligibility should she choose to use it.

Sophia Vlahakis: F Bente Baekers

Everything about Bente Baekers is impressive. The NFHCA West Player of the Year finished the season ranked second in the nation with 25 goals and 58 assists. She is one of the best offensive players Northwestern has ever had, and this season, she was continuously making history — including becoming the second player in NU and the fifth player in Big Ten history to reach 80 career goals. The fifth-year was nothing but dominant for the Wildcats and watching her play was a privilege. I don’t think it is too ambitious to say Baekers is among the best collegiate field hockey players and among the best athletes Northwestern has ever produced.

Ethan Segall: OT Peter Skoronski

In a season that did not give ‘Cats fans much to celebrate, Peter Skoronski was a shining beacon of success. Offensive line play isn’t flashy and is unlikely to end up on a SportsCenter highlight, but the junior tackle gave the Wildcats elite protection all season long. At the end of the season, Skoronski was unanimously selected to the All-Big Ten First Team, named the Big Ten O-Lineman of the Year and an Outland Trophy Finalist. Now with a mantel covered with hardware, Skoronski looks poised to follow in the footsteps of Rashawn Slater and Greg Newsome II as an early pick in the NFL Draft this April. Skoronski will go down as one of the best to ever suit up in purple and white.

Sarah Meadow: GK Mia Raben

The graduate transfer from Wake Forest proved to hold a Northwestern Women’s Soccer team together throughout the season. While she first split time with Reiley Fitzpatrick for the spot in net, she ultimately anchored the defense for most of the season. She earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors, and I think her experience from an ACC powerhouse helped guide this team to a stellar campaign.

Adam Beck: RB Evan Hull

One of two bright spots on a historically bad offense, Hull was a constant threat for the ‘Cats week in and week out. Rushing for 913 yards and five touchdowns while adding 55 catches for 546 yards and two touchdowns, Hull made up for a whopping 36 percent of Northwestern’s total offense, single handedly keeping the ‘Cats in games. Whether it was through the air or on the ground, the redshirt junior made his mark carrying the ‘Cats offense en route to an All-B1G Honorable Mention. Northwestern fans will be sure to miss him next year as the workhorse looks towards making it to the next level.

Jason Boué: F Aurea del Carmen

There are so many players from the women’s soccer team who deserve to be designated as an “Outstanding 2022 fall athlete.” Unfortunately, the editors said I was only allowed to choose one.

Del Carmen dazzled for the ‘Cats in the center forward position this season, scoring six goals and notching five assists. She started every single one of Northwestern’s 23 games, racking up 1,600 total minutes. Her speed was probably her greatest asset as she zoomed around the final third to reach through balls that no other player would even have a chance at. Her work this season was recognized as well when she was named to the All-B1G Second Team and the USC All-North Region Third Team.

Brendan Preisman: OH Temi Thomas-Ailara

During the 2022 season, Northwestern volleyball had the highest RPI in team history, the winningest season in the last decade, and received votes in the coaches poll for six weeks. The main reason for this was Thomas-Ailara, who just this week received First Team All-Big Ten honors for the third time in her career. She led the Big Ten in kills with 502 and had seven games with 20 or more kills. She carried the offense in most matches, and was far and away the best player for this team nearly every match. She's just the second player in program history to receive First Team All-Big Ten honors three times, and finishes fifth all-time at Northwestern with 1,546 kills. She was one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire Big Ten this year, and her senior season was a fitting close to one of the best careers in Northwestern volleyball history.

Zain Bando: RB Evan Hull

Northwestern football underwent its worst season in three decades, and although the wins barely, if ever, came, there were small glimmers of hope. Evan Hull quickly reminded everyone why he is a fan favorite, as the junior rushed for nearly 1,000 yards while scoring five touchdowns in the process. His toughness was a key to his longevity throughout the season, as he was one of the primary ball handlers outside of the passing game. His most impressive performance arguably came when the Wildcats hosted Ohio State in early-November. Despite the 21-7 loss against the Buckeyes, Hull managed to turn in a solid outing, carrying the ball 30 times for 122 yards. His lone touchdown catch gave the ‘Cats the early lead, but it wasn’t meant to be. The heartbeat of the offense continued to deliver every week, even if the scoreboard didn’t show for it.