It’s been one of the most exciting and interesting years in Northwestern sports history. With several teams making postseason play and players achieving extraordinary highs, Wildcat fans have had plenty to cheer about, despite being out of the stands for most of the year. With almost all sports concluding their seasons this past weekend, we thought it appropriate to look at the top moments from this year, and rank them accordingly.
Prepare the Twitter arguments.
Northwestern fencing did not get much attention from us in our media coverage, but to be honest, we may have been a bit biased if we did report on it. The team finished third in the country at the NCAA Championships, a program-best and one of our former editors, Justine Banbury, was named an All-American.
A third place finish for @NUWFencing at the NCAA Championships – the best in program history 💯— Northwestern Athletics (@NU_Sports) March 28, 2021
AND three All-Americans: Sky Miller, Justine Banbury, and Anna Biasco. 🏆🏆🏆😻#GoCats pic.twitter.com/ARSN6B8nOl
While it may not make too many headlines, we’re very proud to have one of our staff finish high on our list, and get the recognition she deserves.
The only moment of this list to occur within the sport’s regular season, junior right-hander Danielle Williams makes our list for absolute perfection. The ace pitcher for Northwestern softball, Williams took the circle in Iowa City on April 16, taking on the Hawkeyes and trying to stifle their offense.
Williams did more than just stifle, as she did not allow a single batter to reach base, commonly referred to in the sport as a “perfect game.” In the win, Williams faced 21 batters, and retired all 21 of them, striking out eight in the process. It was the first “complete” perfect game in the Big Ten conference since 2009, and the first for Northwestern since 1984.
While Williams had plenty of other highlights this season (she was named First Team All-Big Ten at the end of the season), it simply cannot get any better than perfection, and as a result, her individual effort makes our list.
Yes, we know how their season ended. Yes, we know they lost 13 straight games after that week. But let’s forget about that for a hot second as we reminisce on Christmas Week 2020: the week the ’Cats were on top of the basketball world.
Just 11 days after the team had choked away a game to Pittsburgh in the final seconds, Northwestern pulled off their first AP Top 5 win since 1979, beating the No. 4 ranked Michigan State Spartans in a stunning 79-65 victory at home. Sophomore guard Boo Buie scored 30 points, and the ’Cats clicked all game to pull off one of their biggest wins in team history.
A week later, following wins against Indiana and No. 23 Ohio State, the ’Cats were added to the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2017, ranked No. 19 in the nation. It was an important day for Northwestern, as the men’s team being ranked gave the school a top-ranked football, men’s and women’s basketball teams, giving the aura of a true “sports school.”
Yes we know how it ends, but wow, what a rush that week was.
Absolute dominance, and in only 16 games.
Northwestern junior attacker Izzy Scane received national attention this past year for her unbelievable scoring ability, as she notched an astounding 98 goals. In doing so, Scane shattered the previous single-season program record for goals of 86, set by Shannon Smith in 2011… in 23 games.
Scane’s unbelievable season marked a return to dominance for Northwestern lacrosse, as the team posted a 15-1 record this season, coming just short of the national championship after falling in the semifinal. While her story has a bittersweet ending, there’s no denying the skill Scane showed this season, and ’Cats fans are already hyped for her return the following year.
Despite the football season being originally canceled in August 2020, and Northwestern receiving almost no media attention prior to the season, the ’Cats put together one of their most historic seasons in program history, coming just short of a playoff appearance and Big Ten dominance.
Opening the season with almost no attention from college football outlets across the country, the ’Cats rattled off five straight wins – including wins over undefeated Purdue and No. 10 Wisconsin – to skyrocket all the way up to eighth in the AP Top 25 poll. Despite a tough loss to unranked Michigan State, the team was still able to wrap up the Big Ten West Division, and roll into a championship bout against Ohio State, losing 22-10.
Undeterred, the ’Cats were selected for the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, where they notched a victory over Auburn and gave storied defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz – who announced he would retire following the season – his 400th win, as well as several storied seniors the sendoff they deserved.
Not perfect, of course, but what in Northwestern ever is?
When we first entered the pandemic, the biggest sports story at Northwestern was that the 2020 Big Ten Champion Women’s Basketball team had lost their postseason, and what may have been the closest they would have gotten to a national championship. With a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, all eyes were on the NCAA Tournament… that would never arrive.
Nearly a year later, the ’Cats were able to turn their season around and give their fans the postseason run they deserved. Despite a less than stellar 16-9 record, and losing to Michigan twice in the regular season, Northwestern beat the Wolverines 65-49 in the Big Ten Tournament to avenge their loss from last year, and were able to notch a victory in the NCAA Tournament as well, giving seniors like Lindsey Pulliam one last shot at glory.
Maybe it’s not the greatest achievement, but after being cheated out of their championship run, there’s no way Northwestern fans can disagree with this choice.