Softball: Northwestern’s 2022 campaign to start at Northern Lights Invitational


Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern players applaud from the dugout. The Wildcats will return eight starters from their 2021 campaign.

Nathan Ansell, Reporter

Even though the season is starting with a trip to Florida, this is hardly a beach vacation for coach Kate Drohan.

As Drohan enters her third decade at the helm of Northwestern softball, she and the Wildcats will begin their season at the Northern Lights Invitational in Leesburg, Florida for the second year in a row. Leesburg has been historically kind to NU, as the team went 11-1 last year in the same city — in eight of those games, the Cats won by five or more runs.

In the latest USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll, NU just missed the Top 25, placing third among teams also receiving votes. After last year’s regular season schedule was limited to conference opponents, the Cats will face a variety of ranked teams over the coming weeks.

NU is bringing a roster to Florida that greatly resembles last year’s. The Cats are returning eight starters from their 2021 team, a squad that ended the year with a 29-15 record and a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. NU’s lineup includes four players who earned First Team All-Big Ten nods last year, including senior pitcher Danielle Williams, who was also named a Preseason All-American by Softball America. Graduate second baseman Rachel Lewis and senior catcher Jordyn Rudd were both included in D1 Softball’s top 10 players lists for their respective positions.

Unlike last year, however, the Cats will be facing just five opponents, all outside of the Big Ten. Friday’s slate consists of games against Connecticut and No. 13 Virginia Tech, the latter of which made the NCAA Super Regionals last season. Akron and No. 24 Liberty await NU on Saturday, and a final showdown with Eastern Kentucky on Sunday will conclude the tournament schedule.

The Cats are a combined 5-4 all-time against the teams they will face this weekend — only their final opponents, the Colonels, will be first-time foes. Besides a 2020 loss to Virginia Tech, however, this will be their first meeting with any of these teams in almost 15 years.

Despite a tournament schedule including no conference opponents, there will be other Big Ten teams in the Sunshine State. Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State will all be among the 13-team field for the first iteration of this year’s event.

Following the tournament, NU will be flying back to Evanston, but they’ll return to Florida in time for the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational the week after.  The team will then head to California for one more coastal tournament before touring the Midwest for the rest of its tournament schedule and regular season.

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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