Riker: The Daily’s Sports desk is thrilled for this fall. There’s good reason for you to be, too.


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

In 2021, the chairs at Welsh-Ryan Arena went empty. After a year without fans, Northwestern’s fall sports teams will welcome students and supporters back into the stands.

John Riker, Sports Editor

The history books will show that all of Northwestern’s varsity sports teams competed in the 2020-21 school year, but the notion that any of them experienced a normal season couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Between COVID-19 protocols, season postponements, cancelled games, mandatory quarantines and the absence of fans, the athletic program faced an absolute gauntlet of challenges and setbacks that changed the course of each team’s season. 

This fall, it’s all back. Six varsity fall sports, one year after a silent autumn across the Wildcats’ sports fields. Students and supporters packing the bleachers at Martin Stadium and Welsh-Ryan Arena. A field hockey squad with legitimate championship aspirations. And, of course, the giveaways.

Through our coverage of NU’s varsity sports this fall, we’ll give you a courtside seat to it all. 

In addition to our weekly gameday football coverage, we’ll keep you up to speed on five electric sports — field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s cross country, and women’s volleyball — and tell the stories of the athletes and coaches that make it all happen. On one field, Russell Payne is kicking off his first season at the helm of the men’s soccer team. Right next door, redshirt junior forward Bente Baekers is tearing her way through Big Ten competition once again.

And keep an eye out for the occasional women’s lacrosse story — I mean, how could we not write about that squad? — and our tip-off special for men’s and women’s basketball later in the quarter.

If the last six months have been any indication, there’s plenty going on after the scoreboard turns off, and we’ll cover that as well. Name, image and likeness legislation is changing the college sports and recruiting landscape. Conference realignment — between the future SEC and Big 12 conferences to the mysterious pact known as the “Alliance” — has already made a resounding splash. And we’ll cover whatever other groundbreaking, unforeseen developments come the Cats’ way as they break.

The winds of change are already swirling at the top of the NU athletic department. New Athletic Director Derrick Gragg is in, while University President Morton Schapiro is finishing out his last fall before his August 2022 departure. We’ll continue our coverage of the issues that defined last spring, including the investigation into discrimination and harassment within the cheer program and the aftermath of Mike Polisky’s nine-day tenure as athletic director.

This fall is a pivotal quarter for the Cats’ athletic program, both in the standings and in charting a new direction. We’ll hit newsstands three days a week with our print coverage, and to fill in the gaps we’ve expanded into the digital sphere with online-only articles and exciting social media content you won’t want to miss. Whether you make it out to Welsh-Ryan Arena for every home volleyball game or just attend for the occasional free pizza giveaways, we hope that our coverage will enrich your experience of watching NU sports and keep you in the know on what matters most.

This fall season promises to be as newsworthy and important as any in recent memory. Let’s hope it will be just a bit more normal, too.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @john__riker

Related Stories:
Fall Sports Roundup: Field hockey, cross country teams out to fast starts
Northwestern changes harassment, discrimination policies following cheer team investigation
Riker: This academic year showed Northwestern athletics at its best. Then, we saw its worst.