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Softball: Five seniors announce return for fifth year

The news sets NU up for another potentially historic season.

NCAA Softball: Women’s College World Series UCLA vs Northwestern Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

After reaching the Women’s College World Series for the first time in 15 years, Northwestern softball is reloading for another ride.

Five key seniors — ace Danielle Williams, catcher Jordyn Rudd, outfielder Skyler Shellmyer, shortstop Maeve Nelson and first baseman Nikki Cuchran — will all return to Evanston for a fifth year, the team announced via Twitter on Thursday evening.

The news is undoubtedly a positive development for Kate Drohan’s squad, which, after an exhilarating 2022 season that featured a Big Ten title, a dominant Evanston Regional performance and a memorable win in the Tempe Super Regional, will lose only one key contributor from the starting lineup — reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Rachel Lewis, who has already maximized her eligibility.

Each returning player made their mark in the recently-concluded season, but none did so more prominently than Williams, who went from local phenom to a household name for softball fans across the country. After winning the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year award, she started every game of NU’s postseason run, tossing a whopping 884 pitches and recording five wins in the process. Her decision to play another year likely means the most to an NU team that struggled to find strong alternative pitching options down the stretch of the season. But, the other returnees boost NU’s hopes to make it back to Oklahoma City in their own ways.

Rudd, who won the NFCA’s Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the top defensive catcher in the country in 2022 and earned First Team All-Big Ten honors in each of her full three seasons of college play, has been a force from both behind the plate and in the batter’s box. Nelson — an All-B1G Second Team selection — was arguably NU’s most clutch hitter during their momentous 2022 campaign, launching a walk-off homer in an early-season upset of UCLA and later jumpstarting the team’s Game Three comeback against Arizona State in the Super Regionals. Shellmyer — who joined Nelson on the Second Team after a First Team selection in 2021 — has been a speedy slap-hitter with incredible defensive ability throughout her college career. And Cuchran was possibly NU’s most improved player in the 2022 season, posting career-highs with a .330 batting average, 59 hits, eight home runs, 50 RBI, and 21 runs scored en route to All-Big Ten First Team honors.

With ample talent behind other starters Grace Nieto, Hannah Cady and Angela Zedak bringing up the rear alongside a solid dugout, Drohan’s 2023 lineup appears poised for another historic season.