After a thrilling regular season that saw Northwestern softball (42-9, 21-2 Big Ten) go undefeated for most of conference play, the Wildcats now step into the Big Ten Tournament with the goal of being postseason champs.
The team dropped two of its three games to Minnesota (39-11, 20-2 Big Ten) last weekend to fall to the second seed in the tournament, but revenge may soon be coming. If the team can beat host Indiana (36-20, 10-13 Big Ten) on Friday, beginning at 3:30 CDT, then they’ll likely being facing the Gophers in the next round.
A rematch of last year’s championship game, which Northwestern lost, would be a great test for the ’Cats. The team is almost guaranteed to play further into the NCAA Division I Tournament, and a strong tournament showing would give the team more confidence toward making their first Super Regional appearance since 2008, and potentially another trip to the Women’s College World Series.
Here’s what some of the team had to say heading into the tournament:
Quotes edited and condensed for clarity purposes
Head Coach Kate Drohan
On the team’s focus... “This week has been about us as a team taking inventory, evaluating what we’ve been doing well and what we need to get a little better at, and really using last week as an opportunity to for us to get better. What a great experience it was for us. Yes, our team was very disappointed on that bus coming home, but I’m excited about their maturity and their hunger to get a little better.”
On the team’s multiple individual Big Ten awards... “We’re honored every time our conference can celebrate one of our players. And I think our team also understands that all of those awards are team awards. We’ve had some players who have had really great years and have great numbers, but I really like how our focus has been on our team.”
On the team’s difference makers... “Our staff [of Michelle Gascoigne, Courtney Gano and Abby Ramirez] has been a strength. I think they bring a lot of great experience that they’re sharing with our team to help them prepare, especially with the younger players. I also think that we have never shied away from where we want to go as a program, where we want to go as a team this year. So it doesn’t feel too big for us.
Senior Morgan Nelson
On preparing for strong pitching... “We’re definitely not overlooking our first matchup. That happens every year in the Big Ten Tournament: someone gets upset. You don’t want to be that team. You want to be the team that takes care of the teams you need to take care of. In the postseason especially, all you see is good pitching. So gaining ground from our strikeouts, because [they’re] going to happen, maybe even [in] double digits, but you can still win that game.”
On playing against Minnesota crowds right before the tournament... “It’s just an inside look into what the rest of the year is going to be like. So it’s kind of a blessing that it came at the end of regular season because it kind of leads us right into postseason. And it’s always more interesting and easier to be engaged with the game, like when someone in the crowd is cursing at you or whatever, so really using that to fuel yourself this week in preparation I think is what we’re doing.”
First-Year Maeve Nelson
On the guidance from the team’s older players... “I feel like it’s all just been unspoken guidance. They know how everything goes, and their calmness and their preparedness has been flowing through the team.”
On what practice has been like for the team’s hitters... “It was tough this weekend, but [associate head coach Caryl Drohan] said before practice [that] we all took a nosedive together this past weekend, and honestly we can only go up from here. I think we learned a lot of valuable lessons in the box this weekend, and we’re going to take those with us. Especially with all of our success in the past, having that little bit of failure is definitely going to feed us for the rest of season.”