NU Sports Report Card: Spring Quarter

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Northwestern students wait anxiously for grades to be made official this Wednesday.  We figured why not grade Northwestern sports team as well?  For the next few days, we’ll be issuing grades on a quarter by quarter basis.  First up is spring quarter.

Women’s Golf: A+

By the Numbers:

Team Big Ten Championship, Team 10th place at the NCAA Championships, Individual Big Ten Championship (Sarah Cho), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (Hannah Kim), Assistant Coach of the Year (Beth Miller), one Honorable Mention All-America selection (Suchaya Tangkamolprasert)

The women’s golf team is that one kid who’s kinda quiet about their class load and it turns out they’re an HPME student who’s pulling 4.0s with a class load that makes your head spin.

On the season, they had only one event where the team finished outside the top 10 and only 3 where they finished outside of the top 5.  They locked up wins in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Coral Gables, Florida; and Indianapolis, Indiana (in the Big Ten Championship), and earned second place medals in Wilmette, Illinois and Raleigh, North Carolina (in the NCAA Regional).  Twice they shot under par as a team.  The Wildcats were the class of the Midwest in 2015.  Only one other Big Ten team, Purdue, made the NCAA Championships and they finished in 12th.  Northwestern would finish 10th, making 2015 the best season in program history.

Individually, Northwestern was just as good.  NU was paced by freshman Hannah Kim, whose team best 73.52 stroke average, 5 rounds in the 60s, and 13 rounds at or under par deservedly earned her Freshman of the Year in the conference.  Junior Suchaya Tangkamolprasert was no slouch either, notching a 73.68 scoring average and earning 4 top 10s on the year.  She was named a WGCA Honorable Mention All-American.  Sarah Cho, who finished the season with NU’s 6th best scoring average at 75.26, was the only Wildcat to win an event.  She picked a darn good one to win, though, as the freshman emerged from Indianapolis as the Big Ten’s individual champion.

What’s so scary about this team is that they just lose only one regular scorer in Hana Lee (4th in scoring average at 74.42) and Katie Wooliver, who competed in only one event for the Wildcats.  According to Golfweek, Northwestern replaces those two with two top 30 recruits in Stephanie Lau (23rd) and Janet Mao (30th).  NU will be right back in the NCAA Championships in 11 months, but this time, they’re going to be a favorite.

Lacrosse: B-

By the Numbers:

14-7 (3-2 in B1G), 3rd in Big Ten, #6 in final IWLCA Coaches Poll, Big Ten Freshman of the Year (Selena Lasota), one First Team All-Region Team selection (Selena Lasota), one Second Team All-Region Team selection (Sheila Nesselbush), 2nd Team All-American (Selena Lasota)

Lacrosse is a victim of their own standards.  The program Kelly Amonte Hiller has built is as dominant as any team in any sport in the NCAA.  When you build something like that, a season without a Big Ten Tournament Finals appearance nor a Final Four is a disappointment.  Somehow.

Northwestern lost to Penn State twice, Stony Brook once, and Maryland twice by a combined score of 33-10.  It feels silly even writing it, but Northwestern’s 1-6 record against teams who finished in the top 5 in the country fell well short of the bar that’s been set. 

It is, however, indicative of where Northwestern was as a team.  They handled business against teams ranked south of them, besting Louisville twice, stomping Ohio State by 10, and beating Notre Dame twice, including a 16-11 barnburner.  Northwestern was not an elite team last year, just a very, very good team.

The good news for Northwestern lies in the individual performances 2015 brought with it.  Here’s our obligatory “Selena Lasota is absurd” section.  69 goals in her first year and netted almost exactly half of her shots, which is stupid good.  She did it all with a style that women’s lacrosse hadn’t seen and certainly wasn’t ready for.  She pulled just about every award imaginable.  Junior Kaleigh Craig though was a huge player for the ‘Cats, especially in the postseason, scoring 15 in NU’s 5 postseason games.  Sheila Nesselbush developed into a key, to borrow a soccer term, “box-to-box” midfielder, locking up attackers at one fan and dishing and scoring on the other.  She finished with 27 goals and 6 assists on the year.  Freshmen Corinne Wessels and Shelby Fredericks too were big contributors, the former leading the team with 20 assists and the latter owning the draw control circle in the postseason before running into a buzzsaw that was Maryland.

The team is young and getting younger with goalie Bridget Bianco, backup goalie Brooke Jones, 3rd leading scorer Kara Mupo, and defenders Haydyn Anigian and Jess Carroll.  Northwestern, as usual, has a stable of studs coming in to fill gaps, but right now the Wildcats are looking at up at teams like Duke, Maryland, and North Carolina.  NU’s talented freshmen are going to have to become polished sophomores for the Wildcats to get back to the top of the mountain.

Softball: B+

By the Numbers:

28-23 (14-8 in B1G), 5th in Big Ten, At-Large NCAA Selection, Big Ten Freshman of the Year (Sabrina Rabin), two Big Ten First Team selections (Sabrina Rabin and Andrea Filler), one Big Ten Second Team selection (Andrea DiPrima), one First Team All-Region selection (Andrea Filler), three Second Team All-Region selections (Sabrina Rabin, Andrea DiPrima, Kristen Wood), two Third Team All-Region selections (Julia Kuhn and Amy Letourneau)

Softball was sitting on an A- before slipping on their final exam and falling back into the B range.

NU did not have a great showing in their NCAA regional in South Bend, losing a heartbreaker to Kentucky in game one 5-4 and then getting run ruled 14-5 in 5 innings against hosts Notre Dame.  Those games, plus their run rule loss in their second game of the Big Ten Tournament to Women’s College World Series runner-ups Michigan sours what was a pretty darn good Northwestern season.

Northwestern’s final record doesn’t look great, but when you play 12 ranked teams on the year, you’re going to struggle to finish with a sparkling record.  Of course, Kate Drohan will probably be disappointed to not accrue a single win against a ranked opponent in 2015.  Northwestern played teams who finished ranked 2nd (Michigan), 4th (LSU), 5th (UCLA, twice) 7th (Oregon), 13th (Arizona), 15th (Minnesota, three times), Cal (T-25th) and Notre Dame (T-25th) in the coaches poll, in what was a standardly brutal slate.

As I wrote about before, the biggest thought in people’s mind from 2015 is “how good could this team have been if they were even a little bit healthy?”  Seemingly everyone was hurt at one time or another.  Catcher Sammy Nettling missed serious time at the start of the year.  Pitcher Nicole Bond didn’t pitch a single game.  Fellow pitcher Amy Letourneau missed games and even when she did play she didn’t look herself.  NU’s ace Kristen Wood looked like she had a heavy arm by the end of the year.  When you have to pitch a left fielder in Oliva Duehr in an elimination game in the postseason, you know you’ve caught a bad injury bug.

NU won’t have an empty cupboard in 2016 thanks to the likes of juniors Andrea Filler, Amy Letourneau, and Kristen Wood and freshmen Sabrina Rabin and Sammy Nettling, but there is going to be a lot to replace with key seniors leaving.  Losing 2-time 2nd Team All-Big Ten outfielder Andrea DiPrima hurts a ton, as does losing solid all-around first baseman Julia Kuhn and power hitting Olivia Duehr.  Northwestern’s pitching staff returns in its entirety next season and that should include sophomore Nicole Bond.  Having 3 solid pitchers to back up what should be a good-to-great lineup could make for a huge step up in 2016.

Northwestern replaced talent surprisingly well in 2015, sliding in Sabrina Rabin to fill in speedster Emily Allard’s shoes and dealing with the loss of Mari Majam by loading up on power.  Whether they can do it again in 2016 will be the story.

Baseball: D+

By the Numbers:

18-36 (8-16 in B1G), 10th in conference, one All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection (Grant Peikert), two players drafted (Matt Portland, 17th round, 519th overall; and Brandon Magallones, 24th round, 712nd overall)

This wasn’t the send-off season long time head coach Paul Stevens was hoping for.

Northwestern started slow, dropping its first 6, and never really picked it up.  Of series that were at least 3 games in 2015, Northwestern won just two.  Northwestern’s 5.57 team ERA was 13th in the conference and they were last in the conference in runs scored.

Northwestern was paced at the plate by two seniors, Kyle Ruchim and Scott Heelan.  Ruchim hit .358 on the year which, had he played in enough games to qualify, would have put him 2nd in the conference.  Scott Heelan was also well above .300, finishing with a .332 clip with 17 doubles.

On the mound, draftees Matt Portland (4.04 ERA, 68 Ks) and Brandon Magallones (5.55 ERA, 67 Ks) were helped out by Jake Stolley, who had a team best 2.98 ERA in 54.1 innings of relief.  But NU’s bullpen was shaky, giving up late leads often.

In the poor season for NU Baseball were some glints of hope for the future.  Grant Peikert picking up a All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection bodes well, but the biggest sources of optimism for Northwestern are off the field.  The Wildcats christened a new stadium this year, as the lengthy renovations of Rocky Miller Park were finished, and yesterday, NU announced yesterday that Spencer Allen will be replacing the retiring Paul Stevens.  Allen was last an assistant at Illinois, a team that rattled off 27 straight wins and spent much of the year ranked inside the top ten in the nation.  With a new manager with championship pedigree taking control of the ship with a sparkly new stadium, Northwestern baseball may just have the infrastructure to rebuild its program.

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