WNUR 4-on-4: Spring Sports Edition
1) What’s been the biggest story of the spring sports season?
Ben Goren: Women’s Lacrosse is always going to be the most important cog in the spring sports machine at Northwestern. Whenever an Ohio State fan makes fun of Northwestern’s 66 years since winning a Rose Bowl, or when a Michigan State fan makes fun of NU not making an NCAA Tournament, lax is supposed to be the comeback. This year, that hasn’t been the case. The Wildcats sit at 9th in the country, and they’ve had some bad losses. That’s a much bigger story than if they made the Final Four. That’s the reality of the insanely high bar put on Kelly Amonte Hiller.
Zach Pereles: The biggest story of this spring has been the commitment of Rapolas Ivanauskas. Not only is Northwestern getting one of its best basketball recruits ever, but his impact on the rest of the 2016 class cannot be overstated. To get a guy this good this early in the 2016 recruiting process was huge for Chris Collins and co. Ivanauskas’ commitment was huge, and it says a lot to other recruits that Collins can attract elite prospects to Evanston.
Ari Ross: The biggest story of the spring sports season so far has to be Selena Lasota. Lasota has 57 goals so far this season, good for sixth in nation and averages 3.50 goals per game, good for sixth in the nation. And did I mention she’s only a freshman? Lasota only played box lacrosse in High School so she’s still adjusting to the college game, but she’s been an absolute revelation to this team. After losing a bunch of seniors last year, she’s really helped Northwestern lacrosse continue to play well this season.
Michael Stern: I’ll say Paul Stevens’ retirement is the biggest story. Stevens is hanging up the cleats after over 30 years at the helm of the Wildcats baseball program. There hasn’t been much success in the win column, but Stevens’ program has produced multiple big-leaguers, from Joe Girardi and Mark Loretta to current MLB players: J.A. Happ and George Kontos. Stevens spearheaded the move to renovate Rocky Miller Park, and both of his sons played for the Wildcats. With his youngest son Cody graduating this June, it’s a good time for Stevens to step away, but he’ll leave a void in the Northwestern athletic department.
2) How far will Northwestern women’s lacrosse go in the NCAA tournament?
Ben: It all depends on seeding. As long as Northwestern can avoid Maryland or North Carolina, it’s hard to pick against them. Still, this team doesn’t feel like a Final Four team. It feels like all of the offense falls on Selena Lasota, though others have been chipping in more recently, and Northwestern’s lack of a draw control specialist has hampered them all season. Betting against Kelly Amonte Hiller is a good way to lose your shirt, but I’m going to do it right now.
Ari: I’m going to be bold and say the Wildcats advance to the Final Four for the 11th straight season. As they stand, the ‘Cats, barring any crazy upsets, would be the No. 6 seed going into the NCAA Tournament. And as the No. 6 seed, if they advance past the opening round, they’d play No. 3 Syracuse. Unlike No. 1 Maryland or No. 2 North Carolina, Northwestern beat Syracuse earlier this year and I think they can do it again. Again the Terrapins or the Tar Heels, I’m not sure Northwestern would advance to another semifinal, but against the Orange, I think they can and will. But in the Final Four, I think the Tar Heels beat the ‘Cats once again, as the ‘Cats miss the finals for the fourth straight year.
Michael: I think the elite eight is in the cards for NU Lacrosse this year. The Wildcats currently sit ninth in the polls, but have a chance to move up with a win today against number-seven Penn State. If the ‘Cats can beat the Nittany Lions, they should be able to avoid a second-round date with Maryland, who gave NU the run-around at Lakeside Field in late March, but should still have to face either North Carolina or Duke in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats have faced both Tobacco Road programs already this season, losing to the Tar Heels by one goal and the Blue Devils by six. Perhaps the ‘Cats catch a break and draw Syracuse as a quarterfinal opponent (NU topped the Orange earlier this year), but the NCAA tournament is all about matchups, and the potential matchups suggest the Wildcats will bow out in the round of eight.
3) Who’s been the biggest breakout of spring, outside Lasota?
Ben: NU Softball’s stud freshman Sabrina Rabin is objectively the right answer. She’s hitting over .400. She has a million stolen bases. She’s so fast, that DePaul put 5 infielders in to try and take away her slap technique. Her response? Staying in the box and nearly taking off DePaul’s pitcher’s head with a screaming line drive that somehow was snagged. She’s a unique talent, and exactly what the Wildcats needed with Emily Allard and Mari Majam graduating last season.
Zach: Alex Chatt has been great for the Wildcats on the tennis court. She owns a 28-12 record as a freshman and she has a really bright future. Her year ended with a tough three-set loss, but she was a major contributor on a very young Wildcat team that has a very bright future.
Ari: I have to give it to Northwestern softball’s freshman center fielder, Sabrina Rabin. Rabin won the Big Ten Freshman and Player of the Week awards earlier this month as she batted .769 that week. On the season she’s hitting .401/.455/.434 with 61 hits and 11 RBIs. And she’s an absolute monster on the base paths, having stolen 24 bases in 28 attempts. As a freshman she’s taken hold of the leadoff spot in the starting lineup having played and started in all 44 games so far. And with a fielding percentage of .944 and just 2 errors she’s played some good defense in center field as well. Rabin’s been a great help to a team that lost a lot in last year’s senior class.
Michael: You may not have heard of my breakout player, but she’s exploded onto the scene this spring. Golfer Hannah Kim won Big Ten Freshman AND Player of the Year honors, leading the Wildcats to the conference title. Kim played in all ten events for the team this season, contributing a team-high five rounds in the 60s and 12 rounds at par or better. Add to that freshman Sarah Cho’s individual Big Ten championship, and the Wildcats have themselves quite the women’s golf recruiting class.
4) What’s been the best game of the spring?
Ben: Up until the game actually started, Northwestern vs Maryland at Lakeside Field under the lights in the Big Ten’s first ever women’s lacrosse game was a pretty unique atmosphere. Two powerhouse teams, NU was wearing sweet gothic uniforms, a million and a half story lines, and, again, it was under the lights. How many lax games are played like that? Northwestern probably wants to forget the 60 minutes after the first draw control, but in terms of hype, that was the coolest game of the season.
Zach: How about Northwestern Lacrosse’s season-opening 12-11 win over USC in California? The Wildcats fell behind 5-0 and came back to force overtime and win in the overtime period. How can this NOT be the best game?
Ari: The best game of the spring has to be Northwestern Softball’s 19-0 whooping of Wisconsin. Scoring 19 runs in one game is absolutely insane, the kind of insane that would lead our own Ben Goren to make a bunch of graphs to describe how off the charts this performance was. The game was over by the top of the fifth as the ‘Cats run ruled the Badgers, 19-0, and then the ‘Cats proceeded to run rule the Badgers again in the second game of the doubleheader. Two destructive victories over the Badgers, totaling 33 runs has to be my pick for best game(s) of the spring.
Michael: On April 16, Northwestern lacrosse faced off against Notre Dame and became the second Wildcat athletic team to pull out a nail-biting win in South Bend this school year. NU avenged last season’s one-goal loss to the Irish with a 10-9 victory, and the teams were never separated by more than one goal in the second half. The score was tied at 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 before Sheila Nesselbush scored the game-winner with just under four minutes to play. Selena Lasota made some history as well, scoring four goals and reaching the 50-goal plateau for her freshman season.