While Northwestern students have landed in the midst of Week 3 work, several of the Wildcat fall sports teams aren’t too far from finishing up their regular season games. Taking a look at what’s happened so far across different programs, NBN Sports names the most impactful first-years—including redshirt players—for several NU teams.
Field Hockey: Bente Baekers, forward
By: Jacob Munoz
While she’s not a true first-year, redshirt Bente Baekers has been a critical new component for this year’s field hockey team. In 14 games she’s scored 17 goals and contributed an assist to lead the Wildcats with 35 points, more than double that of her next-closest teammate, Kirsten Mansfield (17). She's also been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week four times.
A hurdle in Baekers’ way is scoring versus the country’s best teams, however: against the three top-5 schools Northwestern has faced and lost to, she has zero goals to accompany her single assist. She did have three goals in a route of No. 12 Ohio State, though, and has provided a giant scoring boost to a program that had 42 goals in 19 games last season (the 2019 Wildcats are at 40 through 14 matches).
Men’s Soccer: Ugo Achara Jr., forward
By: Shreyas Iyer
Ugo Achara Jr. celebrated his first conference goal, a curler from outside the box, with a back-flip against No. 5 Indiana in the Wildcats’ 3-1 loss. Whether or not his coming-out party last week will be indicative of a successful first year remains to be seen, but Achara’s early performances bode well for the young ‘Cats.
Achara continues to dazzle with his unique blend of size and speed, and sits tied for second on the team in total points with four. Although he did not score in this past Sunday’s shutout loss to Michigan, he remains one of Northwestern’s most dangerous attackers, and should see his playing time increase if he performs like he did against Indiana.
Football: Drake Anderson, running back
By: Jono Zarrilli
In an abysmal season for the Northwestern offense, Drake Anderson has been - quite literally - the only bright spot. Taking over for an injured Isaiah Bowser in Northwestern’s sole win over UNLV, Anderson had a breakout performance reminiscent of Bowser’s breakout performance against Rutgers last year; the redshirt freshman produced 141 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
Drake is the son of Northwestern legend and All-American Damien Anderson, who held the school record in rushing yards before Justin Jackson surpassed him in 2017. With Bowser playing a limited role over the last three weeks, Anderson has received the lion’s share of carries, gaining 220 yards and scoring 2 TD’s (depressingly, half of Northwestern’s touchdowns in that timeframe). Anderson is not much of a threat in the receiving game, but he is solid in open space and should create a competition for carries once Bowser is fully healthy, for this year and beyond.
Volleyball: Temi Thomas-Airlara, outside hitter
By: Nav Dhillon
A first-year from Glenwood, 6-foot-2 Temi Thomas-Ailara has already made a significant impact on the Women’s Volleyball team. Just two weeks into her first season, she recorded an early season-high with 32 kills against American. Overall, she’s landed 260 kills in just 17 games — Thomas-Ailara is a strong force who is just gaining momentum.
In addition to making an impact at Northwestern, Thomas-Ailara has gained national attention. She was named Big Ten Freshman of the week two weeks in a row in September, during which she had her season-highs of seven aces against Texas Tech and 32 kills and 12 digs against American. Fans can expect Thomas-Ailara to continue showing out throughout the rest of her games as she gains new season-highs almost monthly.
Women’s Soccer: Danika Austin, defender
By: Augusta Saraiva
Even before committing to Northwestern, defender Danika Austin was used to getting honors. As a national champion with her club in 2016 and regional champion in 2016 and 2017, the first-year from Jenison, Mich., also made it to the honor roll all four years of high school, graduating as her class’ Salutatorian (AND is really in her DNA).
Only a few weeks in as a Wildcat, Austin has already received both the Big Ten Freshman of the Week and Defender of the Week awards. She has three assists and one golden goal she scored against Iowa. Austin has also started every game in the season, already establishing herself as a first-choice player despite her lack of collegiate experience. A defensive player with a powerful shot and the ability to assemble dangerous counterattacks, Austin has the potential to help lead the Wildcats to a fruitful season.