Northwestern women's basketball star Veronica Burton goes for a contested shot. Burton, who will be returning for her senior season, is only one member of our "Players to Watch" list for next year. Photo by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern 

As the Big Ten year draws to a close, it’s easy to look back on the best moments and departing players from this season, reminiscing on everything great Northwestern had to offer in one of the most important years in school history. There’s something to be said, however, about not spending too much time in the past; it’s the easiest way to let the present pass you by.

With this in mind and new seasons just three months away, we’re going to take a look at the top players to watch in the coming months, as their work for the ’Cats is going to be crucial in the years ahead. Did your favorite player make our list? Read on and find out.

Football: Brandon Joseph, Safety

Brandon Joseph makes the play of the year against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Joseph, the first All-American for Northwestern since 2013, will likely have an increased role in 2021 in a new defensive scheme. Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

Joseph, who was just a three-star prospect when he committed to Northwestern in 2018, turned heads in his first season with the Wildcats, leading the team in interceptions with six, including some of the best seen in Northwestern history.

Following the season, Joseph won a number of accolades, including First Team All-Big Ten, and became Northwestern’s first All-American player since kicker Jeff Budzien in 2013. With the departure of senior studs like linebackers Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher, as well as the NFL-bound cornerback Greg Newsome, it’ll be interesting to see if Joseph can return to the dominant stature he held in 2020.

Let’s hope, at least.

Women’s Basketball: Veronica Burton, Guard

Veronica Burton drives for the basket during a game against Maryland in 2021. The two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Burton will have an increased role this upcoming season following the departure of scoring threats Lindsey Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton. Photo by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

There’s less doubt behind Burton’s dominance, as she has quite a resume behind her. Two straight years as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and named First Team All-Big Ten in 2021, Burton is returning for her senior season after tallying career highs in points, rebounds and steals the following season.

While there’s no doubt behind Burton, there will be eyes on her this upcoming season, as her well-matched partner Lindsey Pulliam as well as core member Jordan Hamilton have both left the team, giving Burton the opportunity to lead the team on both sides of the ball. While the team is still building around her with five-star prospects, Burton’s final season will be watched with intrigue as she tries to lead the ’Cats back to Big Ten supremacy and the postseason.

Women’s Lacrosse: Izzy Scane, Attacker

Junior attacker Izzy Scane fires a shot during a game against Michigan. With 98 goals in a shortened season, Scane came just short of breaking the NCAA record. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

I mean, come on, this isn’t even a debate.

Scane, who set Northwestern’s record for goals in a single-season with 98, is one of the most electric players in the country, with a shot that can blow by even the best goalies in the NCAA, and helped the ’Cats reach a perfect conference record in 2021. In her effort, Scane won Big Ten Attacker of the Year, was named First Team All-Big Ten, and was a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, an honor given to the best attacker in the country.

The only question that remains for Scane is can she break her own record. With a shortened season, Scane only played 16 games, compared to the current record-holder Charlotte North of Boston College, who scored 102 goals in 23 games. With a full season next year, and her primary “assistant” Erin Coykendall returning, will Scane make national history? Only one way to find out.

Smart money says yes.

Softball: Danielle Williams, Pitcher

Danielle Williams prepares to deliver during a 2021 game. After winning 17 games for the 'Cats in 2021, eyes will be on Williams as she looks to become one of the greatest in program history. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

One of the best pitchers in the NCAA returning for her senior season. Yeah, this is something to watch.

In her junior season, Williams was named First Team All-Big Ten after a dominant stretch, including opening the year with 30 straight innings without a run, and winning 17 of the team’s 30 games in 2021. In addition, Williams posted the first seven-inning perfect game for the ’Cats since 1989, and won Northwestern’s only win in the postseason tournament, a 7-1 victory over Miami.

There isn’t much controversy about what Williams’ success will mean next season, as a good amount of Northwestern’s core will be returning, and with pitching being one of the most important positions in sports, there’s not much question that she will return to form and help the ’Cats earn several important wins. With enough production behind her, however, along with a potential appearance in the Big Ten Tournament, maybe Williams can add some postseason hardware to her trophy case.

Men’s Basketball: Boo Buie, Guard:

Boo Buie guards a shot during a 2021 game against Wisconsin. With the departure of shooting superstar Miller Kopp, Buie will have to step up in his junior season. Photo by Brandi Simpson / North by Northwestern

To be honest, this was a bit of a toss-up between Buie and leading scorer Chase Audige. When we look at individual performances, however, more eyes will be on Buie as the team scrambles to rebuild after key departures.

Buie is a superstar in the making, scoring 248 total points and being a constant threat from behind the arc. In some of Northwestern’s most important wins of the season, Buie was an incredibly important contributor, including scoring 30 points in the team’s upset of No. 4 Michigan State, and a go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute against No. 23 Ohio State, giving Northwestern the win and the final push into the AP Top 25.

Unfortunately for Buie, he struggled with inconsistency this season, often going multiple games without scoring a single point. With the departure of forward Miller Kopp – who was a critical member of the team for three seasons, especially in shooting – to the transfer portal, Buie will be closely examined. Can he become the scoring threat Northwestern has desperately wanted him to be?