Top breakout Wildcats of 2022
By Logan Schiciano
From softball’s trip to the Women’s College World Series, to women’s soccer’s improbable NCAA Tournament run, 2022 was filled with magical moments in Northwestern Athletics. But the success of Wildcat teams was not possible without some players taking their games to another level. Here is Logan Schiciano’s top ten list of Northwestern athletes who had breakout seasons in 2022.
Honorable Mention: Jay Beshears – Baseball
Although Beshears didn’t get much of a chance to play as a freshman, the sophomore showed great versatility in the field and was a major bright spot at the plate in 2022. The lefty slugger hit for power (10 home runs) and average (.335), and ranked top-five on the team in several offensive categories including OPS (.995), SLG% (.608), and hits (65). He came up clutch on multiple occasions, including a walkoff single to defeat Penn State on April 9 and a go-ahead grand slam in the ninth inning against Illinois on April 15. Beshears made 28 starts in right field in 2022, but also played the other outfield spots, first and second base. Beshears even made six appearances on the mound, recording a save after Northwestern’s bullpen imploded in a wild 7-6 win over Indiana on April 2. Unfortunately for Wildcat fans, the end to the Josh Reynolds era in Evanston also meant the end of Beshears’ time in purple and white; he transferred to Duke after the season and should be a reliable bat for the Blue Devils down in Durham.
#10: Julian Roper – Men’s Basketball
For a team that relied on veterans like Pete Nance and Ryan Young for offense in 2021-2022, Roper provided a burst of energy on the defensive end for the Wildcats. Coming out of high school, Roper was the No. 4 prospect in Michigan. Though his collegiate numbers don’t jump off the page – 4.1 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game – he brought great athleticism and a high basketball IQ to the floor each night. Last season, he started Northwestern’s last 15 games and was often asked to guard the opposition’s best scorer. While an injury delayed the start to his 2022-2023 campaign, the 6’3” guard is playing just around 20 minutes per game and had a career-high 12 points earlier this month against UIC. While he has shot the ball slightly better this season, Roper’s consistency on the offensive end is something to watch as the ‘Cats move into conference play.
#9: Jason Gajadhar – Men’s Soccer
The flashy freshman’s three goals were second most on a team that really struggled in 2022. Gajadhar was part of a recruiting class that was ranked fifth in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer and quickly made an impact, scoring the game-winning goal in the team’s first win of the season over Houston Baptist. Though he started the fall coming off Russell Payne’s bench, the Toronto native was quickly thrust into a starting role and played the seventh-most minutes (950) on the team by season’s end. Gajadhar was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team, and even though Northwestern fell in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the midfielder’s impressive play earned him a spot on the All-Big Ten Tournament Team. As Northwestern looks to make amends to what was a disappointing season, Gajadhar and other rising sophomores like Christopher Thaggard, Jayvin Van Deventer and Nigel Prince will be a crucial part of its future.
#8: Xander Mueller – Football
After Northwestern graduated two key linebackers, Mueller earned a starting role and took a giant step forward in 2022. The junior’s 52 tackles were second most on the squad, and he also had a team-high 10.5 tackles for loss. Mueller had the game-clinching interception in Northwestern’s lone win of the season against Nebraska. He also showed flashes of greatness against Penn State, notching a career-high 14 tackles and a fumble recovery in what was the Wildcats’ strongest defensive effort of the season. Though Mueller was a liability at times in pass coverage, his ability to stop the run and get to the quarterback (2.5 sacks) bodes well for a defensive unit that not only has plenty of room for growth, but will be playing under a new defensive coordinator in 2023.
#7: Sammy White – Lacrosse
White was a top-ten prospect out of high school and lived up to the hype, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year recognition last spring. The Baltimore native has great knowledge of the game which made her dangerous around the draw circle – she had the third-most draw controls on the team (45). White’s intellect carried over to the defensive end as she was second in ground balls (36) and fifth in caused turnovers (12). She also showed versatility, starting games on both defense and in the midfield. As the ‘Cats look to return to the Final Four for a third straight season, Northwestern can count on White’s tenacity to provide a spark.
#6: Michael Farinelli – Baseball
While Farinelli’s transfer to Northwestern prior to the 2022 campaign did not receive much attention, he became the team’s ace by season’s end. The New York native pitched just 46.1 innings over his first three seasons at Middlebury, but led the ‘Cats in innings (87.1), ERA (4.43), WHIP (1.39) and wins (6) in his first year in Evanston. His signature performance came in his penultimate start against Purdue on May 14 when the righty pitched his first career nine-inning complete game. Farinelli allowed just one run on six hits and struck out seven, leading Northwestern to a 11-1 victory. It was also one of four starts on the season where Farinelli lasted 8+ innings and threw over 105 pitches. Featuring a quality slider and changeup, the graduate student should start the 2023 season as the Wildcats’ Friday starter after Sean Sullivan transferred to Wake Forest during the offseason.
#5: Caterina Regazzoni – Women’s Soccer
The Big Ten Freshman of the Year’s precision and patience on the pitch made her a welcome addition to Northwestern’s midfield this fall. She came to Evanston with a wealth of international experience (she helped the U20 Swiss national team win the FIFA Youth Cup) and immediately made herself known to Wildcat fans by scoring the first goal of Northwestern’s season against Kansas State. She finished the year with three goals and three assists and was selected to Top Drawer’s Freshman Best XI Second Team. The ‘Cats reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for just the third time in program history, and Regazzoni not only has three more years in purple and white, but also the potential to play professionally after college.
#4: Jill Girardi – Lacrosse
Girardi had always been fearless and aggressive, but her grit paid dividends on the stat sheet in more ways than one last spring, boosting her to her best season by far. The fifth-year began her Northwestern career as a defender, but took advantage of the opportunity to control the attack in her final season, tallying a career-high 52 goals in 2022 (her previous career-high was 14 in 2019). Girardi was also the ‘Cats primary draw taker, leading Northwestern with 183 draw controls (second most in the NCAA). She had the second-most draw controls in a single game in Northwestern history with 19 against Rutgers, and had five straight games with four or more goals midway through the season. Girardi was named First Team All-Big Ten and her strong play earned her a spot on the IWLCA All-American First Team. She continued her lacrosse career in the Athletes Unlimited professional league over the summer and is now an assistant coach at Coastal Carolina University.
#3: Grace Nieto – Softball
As a first-year, the slap-hitting Nieto started every game for Northwestern and came up clutch on the biggest stages down the stretch in 2022. She plays a smooth second base and her speed in the number nine hole paired nicely with fellow slap-hitter Skyler Shellmyer at the top of the batting order. Neito’s batting average rose dramatically in the later stages of the season, and she finished the year at .324, with two home runs, 18 RBIs and just 21 strikeouts. The Farmington Hills, Michigan product had three multi-hit games in the NCAA tournament and earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team. With all of Northwestern softball’s starters, except Rachel Lewis, returning in 2023, Nieto and company look to return to Oklahoma City and make a deep run in the Women’s College World Series.
#2: Peyton Halsey – Field Hockey
One of the older Wildcats on this list, the senior emerged as a true leader on a Northwestern field hockey team filled with stars. A co-captain, Halsey’s hustle and poise in big moments made her an integral part of the Wildcats’ dangerous attacking unit. She racked up 13 goals in 2022 (more than her first three seasons combined) and went 5-6 on penalty strokes – a duty which she assumed early in the season. Her best performance of the year came on Sept. 30, when she led a dramatic comeback against then-No. 6 Penn State. Halsey scored in the 59th minute to tie the game and then converted a penalty stroke in the final minute of overtime to secure a 5-4 win for the ‘Cats. She earned a spot on the NFHCA All-West Second Team and if the Wildcats’ NCAA Championship loss to North Carolina was her final game, Halsey certainly made her mark in Evanston, leading Northwestern to its first-ever top ranking and National Championship over her tenure.
#1: Meg Boade – Women’s Soccer
Boade’s transformation was a big factor in making 2022 arguably the best season in Northwestern women’s soccer history. The junior midfielder went from being a role player during her first two seasons to one of the most prolific players in the Big Ten. Boade started all 23 games for Northwestern and her improved ability to finish translated to four goals in six games midway through conference play. She had seven goals and two assists in her junior season and was named a United Soccer Coaches First Team All-North Region honoree, as well as First Team All-Big Ten. While there will be holes to fill next year, with seniors like Danika Austin, Aurea Del Carmen and Rowan Lapi graduating, Boade is poised to once again play a major role in Northwestern’s midfield in 2023.