After a trip to the Women’s College World Series, the Northwestern women’s softball team is eyeing a season that will send them back to Oklahoma City.
Last season, the Wildcats ended their season with an impressive 45-13 overall record, which included their eighth Big Ten Championship win and an NCAA Regional tournament win. They enter this coming preseason ranked eight by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), their highest ranking in 15 years. They are also set to play eight teams in the NFCA Top 25 — Oklahoma, UCLA, Texas, Tennessee, Clemson, Kentucky, Auburn and Oregon.
There has been little change to Head Coach Kate Drohan’s roster from last season, as the ‘Cats only lost three players to graduation. One of them, of course, was last year’s Big Ten player of the year, Rachel Lewis. Lewis finished second on the team in batting average with .353 and was in the top 10 in the country for home runs. Even without Lewis, the Wildcats, on paper, look primed for another deep run for Drohan’s 23rd season at the helm.
One of the biggest returners is catcher Jordyn Rudd. The graduate student had her best year last season with a .370 batting average, the best on the team. Rudd also won the Rawlings Golden Glove Award last season, awarded to the best defensive players in the country.
Joining Rudd as one of the top players from last season is pitcher Danielle Williams, the unanimous Big Ten Pitcher of the Year last season. She led the conference in ERA, strikeouts and wins, and was third in the country for strikeouts. Her backup will be senior Sydney Supple, who came in relief a few times for Williams and played incredibly well when she got to start, including one seven-inning shutout from the circle against Iowa last season. Just as importantly, the Wildcats also get a healthy Lauren Boyd and DePauw graduate transfer Cami Henry, helping to relieve the stress on the arm of Williams.
The team will also look to some of its younger players to step up much like they did last season, such as junior third-baseman Hannah Cady and sophomore second-baseman Grace Nieto in the hitting category. Both started all 58 games last season, and had an on-base percentage of .400 and .354, respectively.
Fielding wise, the Wildcats will look to Rudd and graduate student Nikki Cuchran to control their defense. At first base last season, Cuchran had 296 outs and a .990 fielding percentage.
In addition to bringing back Williams, Rudd and Cuchran as graduate students, the Wildcats also return Maeve Nelson and Skyler Shellmyer for a final fifth year. The quintet of extra-year ‘Cats help bolster an attack that featured the top scoring offense in the Big Ten.
Northwestern opens their season in Clearwater, Fla. against South Alabama on Feb. 10 at the NFCA Leadoff Classic, where they’ll also play 2022’s runner-up Longhorns. Big Ten play starts for the Wildcats on March 24 in a three-game series against Minnesota.