As the NCAA softball season got underway, much of the hype around Northwestern was centered on a returning core from the 2022 College World Series team that included Jordyn Rudd, Maeve Nelson, Skyler Shellmyer and Danielle Williams, among others.
Now, just past the midpoint of the season, the newest faces on Northwestern’s roster are proving they deserve some respect as well. The first-year trio of Kelsey Nader, Kansas Robinson and Bridget Donahey has begun to find its stride, as all three have made major contributions to the Wildcats, who are 13-2 in their past 15 games. Wednesday’s 12-0 run-rule win over Illinois exemplified their production, as Robinson hit a solo homer and a triple, Nader hammered a three-run shot, and Donahey scored a run as a pinch runner.
Let’s go ahead and take a more in-depth look at each of the three first years and what they have been able to do this season.
No. 7 Kelsey Nader (OF)
Nader wasted no time announcing her presence at the D1 level. In the second game of the season against sixth-ranked Texas, Nader stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded, in the sixth inning, with the Wildcats trailing 9-7, Normally, one would be concerned about a first-year producing in this pressure-packed situation, but Nader proved she was up to the challenge, lacing a two-run single to tie the game and collect her first collegiate RBIs. Overall, Nader started every game of Northwestern’s opening weekend in right field and went an impressive 5-11 with three walks, two RBIs and two runs scored.
No one should have been surprised by Nader’s immediate success at the collegiate level. As a high-schooler in Canton, Michigan, Nader was a three-time team captain and hit a whopping .435 her junior year. She was named All-State once and was ranked as the 37th-best outfielder in the country in her recruiting class.
She’s been a mainstay in the starting lineup throughout the early portion of the Wildcats’ season. She started each of the team’s first 19 games and compiled a .277 batting average with two doubles and five RBIs. Unfortunately, she suffered an injury in a game against Auburn on March 19, forcing her out of the lineup for the first time in her Northwestern career.
After missing three full games, the coaching staff slowly started working Nader back into the swing of things. She came off the bench to pinch run in game one of a doubleheader on March 26, a week after the injury, and pinch hit in game two. She returned to the starting lineup last Sunday against Iowa and has picked up five RBIs in her past four appearances. Assuming she is able to stay healthy, Nader will be a force to be reckoned with in the ‘Cats’ lineup for the rest of the season.
No. 10 Kansas Robinson (2B)
Robinson also saw the field early in her career. She made her first start as the designated hitter in the third game of the year against Tennessee and picked up her first career hit in the following game against Missouri. Due to Grace Neito’s presence at second base, there was not much room for Robinson in the field early in the season. As a result, each of the first six starts of her career came as the designated hitter.
Nieto got injured on March 17, and Robinson was thrust into an unexpected role as Northwestern’s primary second baseman. Since Nieto’s injury, Robinson has started 11 games at second base.
She got off to a bit of a slow start offensively as she adjusted to being in the lineup every day with her batting average falling to as low as .188. Immediately after Nieto was sidelined, Robinson went only 1-10 in her first four starts as NU’s starting middle infielder.
However, after Kate and Caryl Drohan kept her out of the lineup for the midweek tilt against UIC on March 21 and the first game of the Minnesota series on March 24, she has been on a tear offensively. In the seven games since returning to the starting lineup, Robinson has increased her batting average by almost 100 points to .295 while compiling seven hits, two home runs and five RBIs. She has excelled in Northwestern’s past two games in particular, slashing a combined 4-6 with 3 runs scored, two home runs, and four RBIs.
Robinson seems fully settled into softball at the college level and leaves the Drohans with a decision to make once Nieto is healthy enough to play again.
No. 5 Bridget Donahey (IF)
A speedster who was ranked as the 13th overall player in the Class of 2022 by Extra Innings softball, Donahey has made most of her impact on the base paths this season. Despite starting only eight games, she has scored seven runs, including four in Northwestern’s past four games.
She has also gotten some chances at the plate but has struggled to find her stride in limited action this season. She has only one hit in her first 26 collegiate at-bats, but she has drawn two walks and been hit by a pitch three times, so she is still finding ways to get on base and utilize her speed.
Overall, look for Donahey to play a big role down the stretch this season as a pinch runner and take over a spot in the infield once Maeve Nelson graduates.