Recapping Northwestern’s best sports moments of the past four years

Patrick Andres, Senior Staffer

Graduation Issue 2022

Nov. 8, 2018 — Men’s basketball tips off season in renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena

After a 2017-18 season spent in Allstate Arena while Welsh-Ryan Arena underwent renovations, NU returned to its familiar home. The Cats ushered in a new era with an 82-52 beatdown of New Orleans. Home wins over Georgia Tech, DePaul, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State would follow in an otherwise lackluster season.

Nov. 10, 2018 Football downs Iowa for milestone division championship

Pat Fitzgerald had guided Northwestern to unprecedented heights before 2018, but never to Big Ten football’s flagship event. That changed when the Wildcats pulled out a gritty, come-from-behind 14-10 win to clinch a trip to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. NU would fall to Ohio State, but recover to defeat Utah in the Holiday Bowl.

April 3, 2019 — Women’s basketball reaches WNIT final

NU qualified for the WNIT with little fanfare in the spring of 2019. The Cats, however, got hot, slaying Dayton, Toledo, West Virginia and Ohio to reach the tournament semifinals. NU eked out a 74-69 win over James Madison before falling to Arizona in the tournament final, ending a critical early stretch for players that would shape the program’s future success. 

May 4, 2019 — Lacrosse wins first Big Ten title

Because its greatest successes predated the Big Ten sanctioning women’s lacrosse, NU’s most decorated athletic program had never won the Big Ten Tournament until 2019. That year, the Cats did so in style. NU pounced on Maryland for a 10-4 halftime lead and never looked back; the team would eventually reach the Final Four for the first time since 2014.

(Joshua Hoffman, The Daily Northwestern). Northwestern raises the Big Ten championship trophy. The Wildcats won their first conference championship in 30 years.

Feb. 29, 2020 Women’s basketball clinches share of Big Ten title

Before a massive Senior Day crowd, NU put the exclamation point on a season for the ages. The Cats wrapped up the Big Ten regular season title with an authoritative 75-58 win over rival Illinois. Abbie Wolf racked up 21 points and nine rebounds, while Veronica Burton added five steals for a team that would finish 26-4.

March 7, 2020 — Men’s basketball puts on one last pre-pandemic show

NU’s 2020 team was a futile outfit about to have its season ended in an unremarkable manner in the most newsworthy week in American history. But for one afternoon, it was a giant-killer. Before Welsh-Ryan Arena’s last conventional crowd, the Cats dominated No. 20 Penn State 80-69, riding 21 points and five threes from Miller Kopp.

March 12, 2020 — NCAA cancels winter and spring championships

As COVID-19 cascaded across the country, the NCAA took the unprecedented step of canceling championships for the rest of the academic year. The move left a number of NU “what-ifs” – how would women’s basketball have fared in the NCAA Tournament, and what about women’s lacrosse? It also foreshadowed the ugly coming fight over the fate of the Big Ten’s 2020 football season.

Nov. 21, 2020 — Football tops Wisconsin to take step toward division title

In a pandemic-scrambled 2020 season, NU led a barrage of non-traditional powers gunning for accolades in the Big Ten and beyond. Against No. 10 Wisconsin, the Cats clamped down on quarterback Graham Mertz with three interceptions. The win put NU in the drivers’ seat for its second West Division title in three years.

Dec. 26, 2020 — Men’s basketball scrapes top 25 after three-game fever dream

Few NU men’s basketball teams have burned so brightly in such a short timeframe as the 2021 Cats did after beating No. 4 Michigan State, Indiana and No. 23 Ohio State in succession. It was a false dawn, however, as NU dropped its next 13 games, failing to win again until February 25, 2021.

March 22, 2021 — Women’s basketball scores NCAA Tournament win over UCF

Getting a second chance after the 2020 NCAA Tournament’s cancellation, NU drew UCF in the First Round. The Cats gradually pulled away from the Knights to advance, holding UCF to seven points in the third quarter. Lindsey Pulliam led all scorers with 25 points in the win.

May 22, 2021 — Lacrosse rolls into Final Four undefeated

Led by a program-record 98 goals from Izzy Scane – the third-highest total in the history of NCAA women’s lacrosse – NU posted a season to remember in 2021. The 13-0 Cats were seeded second in the 29-team national field. After destroying Denver in their first game, they crushed Duke 22-10 to advance to their second Final Four in three years.

Girls in white shirts pose for a picture holding a trophy.
Field hockey coach Tracey Fuchs embraces junior forward Bente Baekers during the award ceremony. The Wildcats defeated the Liberty Flames 2-0 Sunday to win the program’s first NCAA championship. (John Riker/Daily Senior Staffer)

Nov. 21, 2021 — Field hockey shuts out Liberty for national championship

Eight decades had lapsed since NU won a national championship in any team sport apart from women’s lacrosse. In 60 memorable minutes in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Cats relegated that drought to the history books. Alia Marshall and Maddie Zimmer tallied goals and NU knocked off the Flames to deliver coach Tracey Fuchs a long-awaited national title.

Jan. 15, 2022 — Men’s basketball delivers road upset of No. 10 Michigan State

Mired in a four-game losing streak and coming off a debilitating double-overtime loss to Maryland, little was expected of NU against Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Despite this, the Cats took a 38-33 halftime lead and sweated out a late Michigan State stand to claim a monumental upset win. Julian Roper II, a Detroit native, grabbed the rebound that sealed the victory and hushed a packed Breslin Center crowd.

March 19, 2022 — Ryan Deakin wrestles way to 157-pound national championship

At the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Detroit, Ryan Deakin put a bow on one of the most dominant careers by any individual NU athlete. Topping Princeton’s Quincy Monday to win the national title in his weight class, Deakin became the Cats’ first national champion in eight years. It marked the fourth time in his four-year career that he was named an All-American.

May 29, 2022 — Softball erases early deficit to reach Women’s College World Series

NU’s goose looked cooked early against Arizona State, as the Sun Devils raced out to a 5-0 third-inning lead. The Cats chipped away and tied the game on a fifth-inning solo home run from Hannah Cady. NU never trailed after Maeve Nelson singled in Jordyn Rudd in the sixth, securing the program’s first trip to Oklahoma City since 2007.

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Twitter: @pandres2001