Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Softball: Northwestern’s sophomore sluggers Kansas Robinson and Kelsey Nader prepare for the postseason

Sophomores+Kansas+Robinson+and+Kelsey+Nader+discuss+strategy+between+at-bats.
Daily file photo by Henry Frieman
Sophomores Kansas Robinson and Kelsey Nader discuss strategy between at-bats.

The year before Northwestern’s historic 2023 recruiting class first graced the collegiate field, coach Kate Drohan was already setting the stage for what lay ahead, meticulously planning her trajectory half a decade in advance.

The winningest coach in Wildcat history, Drohan rarely recruits beyond the Midwest — trusting in regional talent to fuel her dynasty of excellence on the diamond.

Staying true to form, Drohan’s recruiting tactics discovered her most potent offensive weapons when they were only eighth-graders living less than five hours away. 

The sole freshmen starters in NU’s 2023 lineup, infielder Kansas Robinson and outfielder Kelsey Nader, were well acquainted with the team’s winning culture by the time they officially joined the team in 2022. 

Watching future teammates like Danielle Williams and Jordyn Rudd make NCAA tournament appearances in 2019, 2021 and 2022, the young pair was determined to match the program’s lofty standards.

Now, with last year’s class of super-seniors gone, Robinson and Nader have stepped into the limelight, ushering in a new era of NU success around a much younger core.

***

Robinson displayed unmistakable signs of athleticism from a young age, but her primary sport remained uncertain.

Initially opting for soccer, the Indianapolis native first picked up softball around seven years old. 

That same year, she asked her mother, Amanda Robinson, whether she thought she could one day compete at the Division I level with her sights set early on playing softball for Ohio State, her father Van’s alma mater. 

Despite her early love for the game, Robinson never limited herself to playing just softball. 

As the captain of Ben Davis High School’s volleyball, basketball and softball teams for her junior and senior year, Robinson made three-sport waves throughout her softball recruiting process. 

As an aspiring Buckeye for most of her young life, Robinson’s dreams came to fruition when Ohio State coach Kelly Schoenly became the first to offer her a spot on the team. 

Two days later, the Drohan sisters picked up the phone. 

“Once we met Kate and Carol, it was a no brainer,” Van Robinson said. “The community surrounding Northwestern and what it provides for its players for the next forty years — not just the four — it makes all the difference in the world.” 

***

More than 250 miles up the road in Canton, Michigan, Robinson’s future teammate and roommate shared a similar experience.

Initially too small to find a helmet that fit her head, Nader started playing softball at six years old. 

Nader initially harbored aspirations of dominating the game from the pitcher’s circle, but she realized the outfield was a better place to utilize her speed as she matured. 

Determined to play softball at the highest level, Nader approached the recruiting process with utmost seriousness, seeking guidance from the families of older players and agents to ensure the outfielder had the optimal opportunity to play college ball.

Rob and Nancy Nader, Kelsey’s parents, said they thought NU’s coaching staff was the primary selling point for the program.

“I know they always say never commit to a school just because of the coaches, but Kate and Carol really provided an atmosphere that we felt not only comfortable but excited to send our daughter into,” Nancy Nader said.

***

In their debut seasons, Robinson and Nader earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team nods. Combining for 76 hits and 51 RBIs, the pair helped round out a roster of veteran sluggers who dominated the team’s offensive production.

As a freshman, Robinson started 42 games and sported a .284 batting average with nine home runs.

With then-sophomore Grace Nieto predominantly occupying the second base position, Robinson often took on the designated player role in the lineup. As the season unfolded, she transitioned from the lower part of the order to the two-hole as she proved her consistency at the plate.

This time last year, the rookie held the second lowest batting average among all NU starters.  Now, she’s ranked fourth in the Big Ten and earned First-Team All-Conference honors.

At the 2024 season’s onset, Drohan grappled with the decision of whether Nader or Robinson should be the leadoff batter. Recognizing the speed and consistency both players brought to the table, Drohan inevitably moved them into significantly larger lineup roles.

Despite the initial uncertainty about the most effective order, Robinson emerged as the clear-cut top hitter for the ’Cats by the time their conference slate began.

“I think Kelsey and I both just have a lot of confidence in ourselves and in each other,” Robinson said. “I just feel a lot more comfortable with her behind me because I know when I’m getting on, she’s gonna move me.”

In a dominant sophomore year performance, both Robinson and Nader sit amongst the most dangerous hitters in the Big Ten.

Batting at .409 and .377 respectively, the duo offers a potent one-two punch in the lineup, consistently providing the ’Cats with first-inning momentum in many of their games this season.

In the team’s March 24 win over Michigan State, the pair opened the game with back-to-back homers setting the tone for what would be a dominant home-slate early in the season.

***

Both Amanda and Van Robinson agree that what set NU apart from all the other schools scouting their daughter was that it felt like Drohan not only recruited talented players, but she eyed also families who would help foster the program’s winning legacy. 

Amid NU’s regular-season finale against Indiana on Sunday, the contest was declared the most highly-attended game in the history of the “J.”

Although local supporters and opposing fan bases take up their share of the bleachers, the majority of the crowd consists of player families — a close-knit group that prides itself on unwavering and vocal support for each player on the roster. 

“It really is a family culture,” Nancy Nader said. 

As one of the ’Cats’ self-proclaimed cheerleaders, Nancy Nader brings a plastic bullhorn to each game, tossing “Go U NU” cheers back and forth with the dugout — a tradition she inherited from former NU parent Heidi Huff, whose daughter graduated last season. 

Van Robinson crafts unique chants for each player except his own daughter, who prefers he stay quiet when she’s at bat.

Rooted in family, the team’s traditions extend beyond the players on the field, with almost every fan invested in game-day festivities. This includes singing along to the Imperial March, Nader’s walk-up song, and clapping along with the team as they perform the school’s fight song in front of the stands after a win.

“Honestly, it’s why we love playing,” Kelsey Nader said after NU’s win over Indiana Friday. “It’s our families and our fans in the stands who bring the energy and make this team so special.”

Email: [email protected]

X: @AudreyPachuta

 

Related Stories:

Softball: No. 23 Northwestern collects eight Big Ten honors, Drohan named Coach of the Year

Softball: No. 23 Northwestern readies for Big Ten Tournament

Softball: No. 23 Northwestern wins series against Indiana, clinches Big Ten regular season title



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