Northwestern celebrates a run in 2021. The team hopes to be doing a lot of celebrating this season. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

Northwestern softball (4-1, 0-0 B1G) has been on a good run. In 2022, they made the Women’s College World Series (WCWS). In 2023, the B1G regular season and tournament champs finished with a 42-13 record, went undefeated at home and had only three conference losses. Yet, they left both seasons feeling unsatisfied. To satiate that hunger for victory, the Wildcats want to win it all and to do that, they need to replace the powerful team they once had.

The team will be missing a significant stock of star power this season with the losses of pitcher Danielle Williams, catcher Jordyn Rudd, first baseman Nikki Cuchran and center fielder Skyler Shellmyer. Williams was an otherworldly pitcher, boasting a career ERA of 2.10, and is the ’Cats all-time leader in wins. Rudd was a menace in the batter’s box last season, claiming the most RBIs with 47 on the team and the second-most home runs with nine.

Cuchran and Shellmyer were crucial members of the team as well. In 2023, Cuchran reeled in 329 catches, trailing only Rudd, and was a reliable batter. Shellmyer finished the season with the best batting average on the team at .341 and was a masterful thief, stealing a team-high 20 bases on 24 attempts.

How do you replace such a powerful lineup? If you’re NU, you start by leaning on graduate left fielder Angela Zedak, who’s a Shellmyer machine. She finished last year with the most home runs on the team with 12 and brought home the second-most runners with 41 RBIs. This season already, she’s knocked two homers out of the park in five games and has an incredible batting average of .625 through 16 at-bats.

Fourth-year pitcher Lauren Boyd will be called upon to lead the bullpen. With a respectable eight wins to her name in the 2023 season, Boyd posted a career-best 2.24 ERA while pitching the second-most innings on the team. Though she’s an NU veteran, she has yet to see the field in five games, but she is undoubtedly a locker room leader. She’ll have help from graduate transfer Ashley Miller, who led the struggling Michigan State Spartans last year with an ERA of 4.22. Miller has already stepped up this year, pitching nine innings, striking out 16 batters and allowing zero runs to date. Replacing Williams won’t be easy, but it’s a task the team is willing to take head-on.

The new-look #25 Wildcats will be tested early with matchups against #15 LSU (5-0, 0-0 SEC), #11 Oklahoma State (4-0, 0-0 Big 12), #5 Texas (4-0, 0-0 Big 12) and #8 UCLA (2-2, 0-0 Pac 12) during the first month of play. Three more currently ranked opponents appear on the slate as the season progresses.

The ’Cats are looking for better than a Super Regional appearance and more than a WCWS berth. They want to win the whole shebang. As long as their remaining superstars step up and the rest of the team is up for the challenge, they have a chance to do what no NU team has done before. All they need to do now is take the first step on that journey.

Thumbnail Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern.