Softball Notebook: Drohan, players reflect on No. 8 Northwestern’s season


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Coach Caryl Drohan looks on.

Nathan Ansell, Senior Staffer


No. 8 Northwestern is scoring seven runs per game as a team, seventh-most in the nation, and its players are reaching new program heights.

Senior pitcher Danielle Williams, who leads the Big Ten in wins with 22, was named a finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award April 20. Graduate right fielder Rachel Lewis has the most home runs in the conference (19) and recently earned her third Big Ten Player of the Week award.

In short, it seems like the stars are aligning for coach Kate Drohan and NU (35-7, 15-2 Big Ten). The team has won 11 of their last 12 games and boasts a .833 win percentage.

“We really want to make a good run in the (Women’s College) World Series,” Lewis said. “That’s the ultimate goal for every team, obviously, but we really feel like we have a shot.”

As the Big Ten schedule nears its conclusion, The Daily spoke with Drohan, Lewis and senior shortstop Maeve Nelson about the team’s stellar season so far, young talent and postseason prospects.

Wildcats’ winning ways

The Cats’ record hasn’t been a product of an easy schedule. Drohan’s squad has amassed a 13-5 record against top 40 RPI teams, and a majority of the team’s losses have come by a single run.

For Lewis and Nelson, NU’s walk-off win against then-No. 3 UCLA stood out as emblematic of the 2022 campaign.

“That was our turning point of ‘Okay, we’re meant to be here,'” Lewis said. “To prove to everyone else where we’re at.”

Other ranked foes have also struggled against the Cats. NU took down Clemson within 24 hours of defeating the Bruins, and the team has also bested other Pac-12 powerhouses like Washington, Oregon and Stanford.

To Drohan, the victory over UCLA has significance for a different reason — it marked a point where the entire team took a step forward.

“To do it in that venue, in February, where we’re training exclusively inside, and then to come back the next day and to beat a very good Clemson team,” Drohan said. “That moment in time was an important moment for our team to understand … what we’re capable of.”

The nation takes notice

Last week, USA Softball selected Williams as one of 25 players shortlisted for the Collegiate Player of the Year award, one of only two finalists from the Big Ten. In addition to wins, Williams also leads the conference in earned run average and strikeouts.

It wouldn’t be the first time Williams has earned official recognition — she was also named a finalist in 2019 and has picked up a conference-leading four Big Ten Pitcher of the Week awards this season. Williams now has nine in her career.

“Danielle has put up silly numbers ever since she got to campus,” Drohan said. “Her composure, her ability to pitch out of jams and just being really tough late in the game, that’s been key for her.”

A glimpse of the future

Tuesday’s game, a 21-2 victory over UIC, had more significance than the lopsided final score — 18 of the 21 team members made appearances, including all four freshmen.

Three of the first-year contributors batted in runs, including shortstop Ayana Lindsey’s first-inning grand slam, and pitcher Lauren Curry tossed a scoreless inning to end the game in her debut in purple.

“Every single person on our team was ready to go,” Drohan said. “They were dialed in, they were calm when their opportunity presented itself.”

The team’s upperclassmen had their moments as well, including senior first baseman Nikki Cuchran’s three-run blast to cap the scoring. But the fourth- and fifth-year players found themselves enjoying another role throughout the game — cheering on the future NU leaders.

Nelson, who said she thrived off similar encouragement as a freshman, was happy to pay it back.

“It was nice to take that from other people who have done things that have benefited me that I hadn’t even noticed,” Nelson said. “It was really great that everyone was so successful too, because if (I) can’t get it done, then there’s 20 people behind me that can get it done.”

The road to Oklahoma City

The last time the Cats hosted a regional and reached a super regional was 2019 — Lewis, Nelson and the rest of the current senior class remain from that team. All of the top 16 teams host a regional, and top advancing teams host a super regional.

Drohan said there was a heightened excitement to see this year’s team play in person, and said the team hopes to host a super regional as attendance starts to peak again.

Nelson said the opportunity to play postseason softball in Evanston would be massive, especially to share it with team alumni and other people close to the program.

“(To) host a regional, win the regional and then host a super regional would be unbelievable,” Nelson said. “I think it’s more about the community than it is about us.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the person in the photo. Coach Caryl Drohan is the subject of the photo. The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @nathanjansell

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