Season Preview: Northwestern Softball
WNUR’s Jacob Murphey (@jacobmurphey22) looks at the 2014 season for Northwestern softball, including key players and the team’s schedule.
The temperatures might still be hovering in the single digits, but it’s time to dust off the bats, gloves, and large yellow balls—the softball season begins today!
The 2014 Northwestern softball team begins its season in Tempe, Ariz., Friday night at the Kajikawa Classic against Stanford. This will be the ninth time the team has begun their season in Tempe, a place much more hospitable this time of year than Evanston. Since their journey is just about to begin, now is a great time to look back at the 2013 season and break out the crystal ball to see what 2014 has in store for the team.
Kate Drohan enters her 13th season as head coach for Northwestern, a place where she has spent her whole career and has built quite a resume. With a career record of 417-228-1 in her 12 seasons at NU, she’s approaching the totals collected by her predecessor Sharon Drysdale, who coached the team for over 20 years and finished with 640 career victories. Drohan’s teams have consistently performed at high levels with only one team ever finishing with a losing record within the conference.Drohan has the luxury of coaching a team that was not greatly affected by the graduation bug. Only two seniors– Kristin Scharkey and Meghan Lamberth—graduated last year, which means the team is very similar to the one that finished fifth overall in the Big Ten a year ago. Sharkey started in the outfield for all but one game in 2013, while Lamberth started in the circle 16 times for Northwestern last year.
The team has an excellent mix of youth and experience. Ten of the 25 on the roster are upperclassmen, and six of those ten are seniors. The projected starting lineup will consist of almost entirely upperclassmen, with the exception of Brianna LeBeau, who started 47 games last year as a freshman.
The team will be led by junior Amy Letourneau, who might be the best all-around player in the conference. Letourneau led the Big Ten in both strikeouts in the circle (113) and batting average (.475) in Big Ten competition. Mari Majam, a senior who batted .343 with 41 runs and 27 RBI last year, will also play a large role in the team’s success. Both Letourneau and Majam were All-Big Ten First Team selections last year.
There are two exciting ‘additions’ to the team to watch out for in 2014. The first is Andrea Filler, who transferred to Northwestern from Boston College in the fall. The infielder only started 14 games as a sophomore in 2013 before suffering a season-ending surgery. Having been granted a medical hardship waiver, Filler will begin her Wildcat career as a sophomore. She batted .300 her freshman year at BC, and started off well last year, hitting .382 before she was sidelined with an injury.
The other so-called addition to the team is Emily Allard, who will return to the team for her fifth season after missing almost all of last year due to injury. The senior is one steal shy of tying the school record, carries a career .405 batting average into the season, and has three All-Big Ten team selections.
Shifting the focus from the players to the teams they’ll play, the schedule is loaded with exciting and challenging matchups. The first half of the season consists of five different invitational tournaments that’ll have the team traveling all across the country. Starting in Tempe, the team will then travel to Baton Rouge, La., Cathedral City, Cal., Fullerton, Cal., and Clearwater, Fla., before finally playing in Evanston in late March.The ‘Cats will face five ranked teams during this stretch, including the defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners. Other tough matchups include No. 3 Washington, No. 17 LSU, and No. 22 Stanford, who they play to begin the year.
In conference, the team has a favorable schedule. Only 8 of the 22 conference games will be against teams who finished with winning in-conference records last year, and the team will avoid No.5 Michigan during the regular season. Nebraska, ranked ninth in the USA Today Coaches Poll, is the only other ranked team in the Big Ten going into the 2014 season. The ‘Cats host Nebraska for a three-game series in late March.
All things considered, the 2014 Northwestern Softball team has great talent, great chemistry, and great promise. With a capable head coach at the helm, the team shouldn’t have a problem finishing with a winning in-conference record barring any major injuries. In May, when the Big Ten Softball Tournament begins in Evanston, the ‘Cats will hope they’re not only hosts, but also a threat to the whole conference.
Is this the year they return to the Women’s College World Series? We’re about to find out. Let the season begin!