Saying goodbye

Andrew Simon

Batted balls and books, workouts and worksheets, the Big Ten, big expectations and big responsibilities.

The five Northwestern seniors, who entered school four years ago as coach Kate Drohan’s first recruiting class, have faced all the rigors of being an NU student-athlete together. And all five have stuck with it through varying degrees of adversity to become the leaders of an improving program, perhaps on the brink of reaching powerhouse status.

“We’re Kate’s first class, which is pretty special,” catcher Jamie Dotson said. “It was almost a new step in the program when Kate came in. We’ve done a lot to develop the program and we’ve left our mark. There were five of us that came in four years ago, and we’re all still here. Nobody has left, which makes us pretty unique, and I think we’re close because of it.”

The seniors are now entering their last regular season homestand at Sharon J. Drysdale Field, starting on Friday at 4 p.m. against Indiana. The game at noon Saturday against the Hoosiers has been designated as Senior Day.

Drohan took over the program from Drysdale in 2002 and immediately started a revival. In the offseason, she had her first shot at recruiting and made the most of it with a strategy that went beyond simply looking for the best players.

“My goal was to find talented athletes who were also serious about their education,” Drohan said. “I also wanted them to really want to be a part of what we were doing here.”

The quintet of Kristen Amegin, Ashley Crane, Dotson, Courtnay Foster and Sheila McCorkle fits perfectly and has grown right along with the program.

Since the group arrived, NU has improved its record each season and climbed into a regular spot in the national rankings. The Wildcats also have advanced further into the postseason each time, reaching the NCAA Super Regionals in 2005. This season, the Cats have been as high as No. 12 in the nation and notched a victory over then-No. 1 UCLA.

“If you look at our progression the last four years, we’ve accomplished so much,” McCorkle said. “We’re leaving a legacy behind of putting Northwestern on the softball map and showing that we can compete with any West Coast team.”

Other players have come and gone, contributed to the team’s ascension along the way and sometimes overshadowed the quintet. But the five have always been there, a constant force both on and off the field.

Some of the contributions are obvious, like Amegin’s powerful stroke that’s carried her to NU’s single-season and career home run records, or Foster’s dominance in the circle, represented by her career 1.51 ERA.

Others, like Dotson’s productive presence in the starting lineup all four years, McCorkle’s sparkling defense in center field and Crane’s selfless acceptance of a pinch-running role during her sophomore and junior seasons, may only be truly appreciated by those close to the team.

Drohan is one of those who doesn’t take any member of the quintet for granted.

“I’ll miss them terribly, not only on the field but off of it as well,” Drohan said. “They’ve molded the personality of the program.”

She’ll miss Amegin’s competitiveness, Crane’s sense of humor, Dotson’s task-oriented nature, Foster’s lightheartedness and McCorkle’s feistiness.

But while the seniors soon will have to leave, they take pride in the fact that their impact on Wildcats softball will continue to be felt for years to come.

“I think we’ve raised the bar so that in the future the recruiting process will be a lot easier,” Crane said. “The top recruits will want to come here not just because it’s a good academic school but also because of the softball program.”

The seniors also hope the bar will be even higher by the time they have to leave.

“Last year, we fell a little short,” Dotson said. “We were so close to the College World Series. For senior year, that’s our goal. We only have one more chance so we’re going to put everything out there and leave it all on the field.”

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