Softball: Swann: A Women’s College World Series run, a top-ten NCAA ranking and the return of the power lineup


Daily file photo by Jorge Melendez

Graduate student pitcher Danielle Williams throws a fastball at the mound of Sharon J. Drysdale Field. Williams will be an intricate part of the Wildcats’ pitching unit in the 2023 season.

Skye Swann, Sports Editor

With the seats for the selection show filled, the Wildcats gave it their all in hopes of clinching a ticket to last June’s Big Dance. Sure enough, the Wildcats secured their spot for a trip to the Women’s College World Series — the program’s first visit in 14 years.

And yet, despite the hard-fought battle, NU fell short against a solid No. 1 Oklahoma squad, returning to Evanston without a championship in its clasp.

However, the most bittersweet losses fuel the greatest revenge journeys. For the Cats, the 2023 season is the place and platform for the squad to come back to the grand stage and finish victorious. With the return of graduate students pitcher Danielle Williams, catcher Jordyn Rudd, infielder Maeve Nelson and outfielder Skyler Shellmeyer for this campaign, NU has the ability to exceed expectations and reach new heights this spring.

All four Cats players were integral to coach Kate and Caryl Drohan’s 2022 success at Sharon J. Drysdale Field. NU finished last spring ranked tenth nationally and first in the Big Ten Conference with a .826 win percentage.

Ahead of the 2023 slate, the Cats are coming into their schedule piping hot from past successes. However, the most important task for the group to continue its ongoing achievements is to hold high batting averages and limit their opponents chances at plate.

Last year, Rudd and Shellmeyer concluded with first and third place finishes over the squad with batting averages of .370 and .348, respectively. The loss of infielder Rachel Lewis will be a major factor to NU’s offensive production, but with a ton of upperclassmen remaining on the team, Kate Drohan said she has strong confidence in the squad to fill the missing hole Lewis left behind.

In fact, the Cats (2-2, 0-0 Big Ten) had a dominant showing this past weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic. Defeating heavy hitters South Alabama and No. 6 Texas, NU set the tone for the season, saying they are ring chasing and planning to make it back to the Women’s College World Series in June.

Senior utility Angela Zedak, freshman outfielder Kelsey Nader and junior third baseman Hannah Cady led the charge in the big faceoff against the Longhorns with two runs apiece. Rudd added to the initiative with a run of her own to seal the blow over the team ranked sixth nationally in college softball. After a dominant 2022 campaign, NU’s showing in the preliminary tournament indicates promise for a strong regular conference schedule and a dance in the postseason.

As one could say, the Cats are possibly stepping into a “sophomore” season of success with big shoes to fill on whether the group can replicate last spring’s dominance, the record and statistics speak for themselves. A majority of the starters from last year’s squad are returning and NU welcomes some new players to the ballpark who hold their own against the conference.

In addition, the backing of two of the greatest college softball coaches in the NCAA gives the Cats a blueprint for a commanding presence — not only in the Big Ten but also in Division I collegiate softball.

NU continues its highly eventful season this weekend at the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Clemson.

While it is still early in the season, the Cats know what it takes to be great in the league. And, if we saw anything from their record last season, one should not hesitate to place bets on this impeccable NU squad to perform, no matter the spotlight. The Wildcats have the players, the coaching staff and the schedule to prove themselves again.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @sswann301

Related Stories: 

Softball: No. 9 Northwestern’s WCWS run ends at the hands of No. 5 UCLA

Softball: No. 9 Northwestern can’t find answers in WCWS loss to No. 1 Oklahoma

Softball: No. 9 Northwestern readies for first Women’s College World Series since 2007