Softball: After preaching ‘blue collar mentality’ all offseason, Wildcats have their eyes on the prize

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Softball: After preaching ‘blue collar mentality’ all offseason, Wildcats have their eyes on the prize

Kristen Wood delivers the pitch. The senior is Northwestern’s ace in 2016 after starting the most games last year for the team.

Kristen Wood delivers the pitch. The senior is Northwestern’s ace in 2016 after starting the most games last year for the team.

Daily file photo by Sean Su

Kristen Wood delivers the pitch. The senior is Northwestern’s ace in 2016 after starting the most games last year for the team.

Daily file photo by Sean Su

Daily file photo by Sean Su

Kristen Wood delivers the pitch. The senior is Northwestern’s ace in 2016 after starting the most games last year for the team.

Melissa Haniff, Reporter

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After yet another NCAA tournament appearance in a 2015 season where Northwestern finished 28-23, and went 14-8 in the Big Ten, the Wildcats are primed for another successful season with coach Kate Drohan at the helm.

The team made it to the NCAA South Bend Regional last season, where it dropped both games to Kentucky and then-No. 16 seed Notre Dame. That being said, the Cats are off to a hot start this year, winning three of five games in Arizona last weekend, and Drohan said she is confident the Cats can elevate their play this season.

“We really slowed down at the end of the year last year, and we want to stay healthy this season,” Drohan said. “We’re a very veteran team this year, very athletic, with a lot of experience. It’s about taking that experience and really taking it to the next level.”

All the pieces for a winning season are in place, and both Drohan and senior shortstop Andrea Filler agree the team’s mentality going into the season will be the difference-maker in winning close, tight games that have often been an Achilles heel for the Cats.

Filler said nurturing a “blue-collar mentality” has been a key piece of Drohan’s offseason plan.

“One thing that Kate introduced to us this year was having blue-collar Chicago grit,” Filler said. “We’ve taken that everyday and really reminded ourselves of that, especially in hard situations. If we hit a lull, we’ll continue to work hard and push forward so that we can be in the race for the top.”

As the Cats look ahead to this weekend’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Drohan sees plenty of opportunity to test that grit by making adjustments to the lineup, incorporating new faces and finding the winning combination to take the field.

Although NU plans to play all five freshmen on roster before Big Ten play begins in March, the team will be heavily reliant on the seven returning seniors and a core of healthy, skilled pitchers, including ace senior Kristen Wood and versatile senior Amy Letourneau. Wood, who went 16-11 with a 4.30 ERA in 2015, appeared in 41 games and pitched 190.2 innings with 229 strikeouts.

“Our seven seniors have been showing up everyday with a strong push, they’re driving the mentality of our team right now,” Drohan said. “We have a five pitcher staff, and that’s providing us a lot of depth so we’re hoping to keep that group healthy and use a lot of different combinations.”

On the other side of the ball, Filler, who led the team in batting average, RBIs and home runs last season, will continue to anchor the offense. This past weekend, Filler led the Cats at the plate with two doubles, a triple, three home runs and 13 RBIs throughout the five game Kajikawa Classic.

Combined with last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, centerfielder Sabrina Rabin, who led the Big Ten with 18 stolen bases in conference play, NU’s offense should be a powerhouse this season. Filler and Rabin will also have help from senior second baseman Brianna LeBeau and sophomore catcher Sammy Nettling, both of whom have proven to be clutch in RBI situations, driving in 29 and 25 RBIs respectively in 2015.

Even with the loss of a core group of four seniors last season, who each played in key positions on the field for the majority of their careers, Filler is confident the team’s offseason preparation has sparked new chemistry the group will need to win big.

This offseason, we divided up into smaller teams and competed against each other, which was a fun aspect because we all kinda kicked up our competitive edge and worked a little harder against each other,” Filler said. “We really wanted to work on working together, learning styles of new players on the team and making sure they were comfortable.”

As the team’s mentality continues to intensify, the Cats will continue to take each game one pitch at a time, with Drohan hoping that a Women’s College World Series berth is in their line of sight.

Email: melissahaniff2016@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @melissahaniff

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