Cooper: It’s a great year to be a Wildcats fan

Danny Cooper, Columnist

Success can sneak up on you. It seems odd that something so prized, so essential, so sought after can come as such a surprise, but sometimes, success comes out of nowhere. Take the performance of Northwestern’s sports teams this Fall Quarter. Although not expected to be bad, the teams have performed above and beyond what many thought possible. We’re only one third of the way through the academic year, but one could already claim that 2015-2016 has been the best year ever in NU sports.

Admittedly, it doesn’t take a lot to earn that claim. For the most part, NU has, throughout its history, been a middling school in terms of athletic performance. Prior to the Cats’ performance this year, the best year in NU sports history was likely 2005-2006. In his last season, coach Randy Walker led NU football to a bid in the Sun Bowl, Cristelle Grier and Alexis Prousis won the national championship in women’s doubles tennis and women’s softball reached the final round of the Women’s College World Series before falling to Arizona. In addition, women’s lacrosse won their second of five consecutive national championships. Outside of the success of that year and a few shining moments here and there — such as NU’s appearance in the 1996 Rose Bowl — the Cats have often disappointed on the field.

Regardless of the Cats’ questionable performances in the past, the 2015-2016 year has been filled with performances nearly any Division I school would be proud to call its own. What first comes to mind for many NU fans is the football team, which this year vaulted itself into the national spotlight early and remained there on the way to a 10-win season. Though the loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl was disheartening, there is no doubt this season was one of the most successful in Cats’ history. In addition, the women’s soccer teams reached the NCAA tournament, reaching the Round of 32 for only the second time in its history.

Even the teams that didn’t reach the postseason had their own achievements. The volleyball team upset the powerhouse Penn State Nittany Lions for the first time since November 23, 2002.

Of course, that was only the fall. Basketball season soon arrived and brought with it a fresh wave of impressive play. Through 13 games, the men’s basketball team matched the best start in school history, losing only to top-10 ranked Maryland and North Carolina and sparking hope that this may be the year in which the Cats finally earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. Even more impressive has been the women’s basketball team. Following a season in which the team earned its first bid to the NCAA tournament since 1997, NU won 12 of its first 14 games to prove the legitimacy of its rank as the 16th best team in the nation.

With all of that said, it is only January. There is a lot that might go wrong in the basketball season and beyond. Perhaps the Outback Bowl loss was a sign of things to come in 2016. Still, the combined efforts of nearly all NU athletic teams thus far have made this year one to remember.

Danny Cooper is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.