Softball: What to Watch For: Northwestern gears up for return to WCWS and Oklahoma City


Daily file photo by Jorge Melendez

Northwestern celebrates after a win against Oakland in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have a heavy slated 2023 season, but aim to return to the College World Series this June.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

Fresh off its first Women’s College World Series appearance in 15 years, Northwestern is looking to return to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 2023.

The Wildcats finished 2022 with a sterling 45-13 record, including a 19-4 showing in Big Ten play, which earned the program its eighth conference championship. NU went on to secure a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and marched all the way to Oklahoma City on the back of a regional site win and a super regionals victory against No. 8 Arizona State. 

Coach Kate Drohan returns much of the core that nabbed the WCWS berth, although the Cats will be without 2022 Big Ten Player of the Year Rachel Lewis, who led the team in RBIs (62), runs (67) and home runs (23), while finishing second in batting average (.353). Still, the returns of several first-team All-Big Ten team honorees means NU could be set for another dominant run.

Here are three things to keep tabs on for NU as the season gets underway.


  1. Not one, not two, not three, but four First-Team All-Big Ten players are back.

Though Lewis may be gone, Drohan not only commands the presumptive Big Ten favorites — NU is the only team in the conference ranked in D1Softball’s preseason top 25 — but she also boasts a quartet of first-team All-Big Ten returners leading the way in softball this season.

Graduate student pitcher Danielle Williams, the unanimous Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, is back for one final season in Evanston. Williams’ dominance in the circle for NU in 2022 was extraordinary, leading the Big Ten in ERA, strikeouts and wins — all while pitching a career-high 251.0 innings.

As for the position players, it all starts with graduate student catcher Jordyn Rudd. Her chemistry with Williams behind the plate aside, Rudd returns having led the team in batting average (.370) last season. She was also the first ever recipient of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award at catcher. Her list of accolades are bar none, but she’ll be looking to add national champion alongside it.

Rounding out the first-team All-Big Ten returnees are graduate student infielder Nikki Cuchran and junior infielder Hannah Cady. Cuchran had a career year in 2022, posting career-highs in batting average, hits, home runs and RBIs, among other metrics. Cady, meanwhile, started all 58 games at third base and was a monster in Big Ten play, hitting .371 and tallying seven homers. 

The quartet will be leaned on to carry this team back to the WCWS, with Rudd, Cady and Cuchran all looking to step up to replace some of Lewis’ production at the plate.  

  1. Who emerges as the No. 2 pitcher behind Williams?

Williams will shoulder the majority of NU’s load in the circle — and rightfully so — but equally critical to the Cats’ success this season will be who emerges as the No. 2 pitcher. 

Senior pitcher and first baseman Sydney Supple pitched 32.1 innings last year, highlighted by a seven-inning shutout of Iowa. She conceded just two runs in five innings in NU’s comeback win over No. 6 Texas to start the 2023 campaign. 

Also vying for that secondary spot is junior pitcher and infielder Lauren Boyd, who pitched 47.0 innings in 2022, recording 51 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA. However, she was hobbled by some injuries throughout the season. Graduate student pitcher Cami Henry, who transferred from DePauw University after the 2022 season, offers another option in the circle. In four seasons at DePauw, Henry compiled a 71-18 record and a career 1.71 ERA in more than 500 innings. 

  1. Can NU repeat as Big Ten champion?

Ahead of the 2023 season, the Cats were the lone Big Ten representative in D1Softball’s preseason top 25 rankings. Despite starting the season 2-2 in the NFCA Leadoff Classic, NU remains squarely in the Top 25 but dropped six spots to No. 13 nationally this past week. After a 4-1 start, Big Ten cohort Maryland joins NU in the rankings at No. 24. 

In the Cats’ first four games, it was clear Drohan was trying to sort out the team’s pitching rotation, with Williams, Boyd, Supple and Henry all making appearances in the circle. Still, NU is more than a month away from the start of conference play — a home series against Minnesota from March 24 to 26. 

Marquee matchups in non-conference, in particular No. 6 Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, will test the mettle of this squad ahead of the Big Ten gauntlet. 

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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