The NCAA Tournament is headed back to The J.
After a historic regular season that saw them knock off heavyweights UCLA and Washington (among other non-conference foes) before claiming their eighth Big Ten Regular Season Championship, Kate Drohan’s Northwestern Wildcats are playing host in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The ‘Cats, who were selected as the ninth-overall team in the field, will host the Oakland Golden Grizzlies on Friday, with Notre Dame and McNeese filling in the rest of the regional.
NU’s 9-seed is its highest since 2007, when it was seeded second in the field by the committee before eventually reaching the Women’s College World Series. With the field now set, the Wildcats will focus in on getting back to Oklahoma City for the first time since that 2007 campaign.
Before they get there, though, they’ll first have to get through the teams in their path in the Evanston Regional. Northwestern’s first tourney opponent, Oakland, won both the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles in a 26-15 season. McNeese also won the regular season and tournament titles of its conference, the Southland Conference, while putting up a 38-19 record. Notre Dame finished fifth in the ACC standings in the regular season before falling to Clemson in the second round of the conference’s tournament. The Irish, however, downed the Wildcats 3-2 when the two teams matched up earlier this season, though NU did not play its ace pitcher, Danielle Williams, in that game.
Behind Williams, who was the unanimously-selected Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, and Rachel Lewis, Big Ten Player of the Year, the ‘Cats, under the leadership of Drohan, Big Ten Coach of the Year, will seek to push through to the Super Regional round, which they’ve done each of the four times they’ve hosted a regional. Should they do so, they may be on a collision course with Arizona State, the 8-seed and host of the Tempe Regional. The Sun Devils won the Pac-12 title outright after claiming a series victory over Washington in the final week of the regular series.
The Wildcats’ tourney run, which they hope will end in OKC, gets started at 3:30 p.m. CT on Friday, when first pitch is set for their game against Oakland.