Kate Drohan prides herself on Northwestern’s tough non-conference schedule.
It was the coach’s scheduling which earned the Wildcats a spot in the NCAA Regionals last season, where they lost in the final of the Austin Regional to No. 6 Texas. NU will return to the field this weekend for the first time since the loss in Texas when they head to Tempe, Ariz., for the Kajikawa Classic.
The Cats will play five games over the course of the three days with doubleheaders on both Friday and Saturday. The slate of opponents lives up to Drohan’s standards with four teams coming off of a berth in the NCAA Regionals, two of which — No. 13 Arizona and No. 2 Oklahoma — are ranked in the preseason poll. All four of those squads advanced to at least the regional final last season, the Sooners are the defending runners-up after dropping the best-of-three championship series to Alabama.
“There’s no question we’ll be tested early,” Drohan said. “We’ll find out really quickly what adjustments we need to make. We have a lot of room for growth, and each time we take the field we want to be better than the previous game.
NU brings back most of last year’s squad with nine of 10 starters returning. The lone starter missing is first baseman Adrienne Monka and her powerful bat. Junior third baseman Marisa Bast and sophomore outfielder Olivia Duehr will be expected to pick up the slack in terms of power.
However, Drohan said the team has had one of the best off-seasons in program history coming off the loss to the Longhorns. She said because so many of her players have returned, NU is ahead of schedule.
“To end the season hungry was beneficial for us,” Drohan said. “Our leaders are stronger, and our sophomores are way more equipped for what’s ahead of them, and that’s only allowed our freshmen to grow quickly.”