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    The Final Byte: Why It Was So Hard To Leave The 'J'

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    With the Northwestern Softball alumni game just a day away, Kristin (Scharkey) Jensen looks back on her four years in Kate Drohan's program in the final installment of Schark Bytes.

    I remember the first time I met Kate and Caryl Drohan.

    Volunteer Assistants Make Full Time Impact

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    As I was going through the post-game high-fives with Tennessee this weekend in Palm Springs, I noticed a familiar face perched on the grass hill down the right field line. She was all decked out in her USSSA Pride gear, but I'd know her silhouette anywhere. It wasn't too long ago that I stepped on campus as a freshman 3,000 miles away from home, and Lauren Lappin was our volunteer assistant coach.


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    Editor's Note: Northwestern women's swimmers Jackie Powell and Megan Goss spearheaded the inaugural "Breaststroke4BreastCancer" relay to raise funds for local cancer research. In an incredible display of support and organizational prowess, the first-time event filled 17 lanes at NU's Norris Aquatics Center with more than 150 swimmers who combined to tally 70,000 yards (or 39 miles) of swimming in just one hour. NU's Beta Fraternity won a trophy with the most total yards: 5,350. In addition, special guest Joan Zielinski, a Northwestern professor and invitee of Wildcats' junior swimmer Becca Soderholm, shared her experience with breast cancer with the crowd during a fun, education and powerful evening. Read on for Kristin Scharkey's perspective on how much the event meant to her team and one softball Wildcat in particular.

    On October 24, dozens of Northwestern student-athletes swam in Northwestern Women's Swimming and Diving's fundraiser "Breaststroke4BreastCancer." Our own team swam over 4,000 yards in one hour, raising money for breast cancer research and contributing to the university's final total in which the swimming program more than doubled their target goal. 

    Rhythms of Rwanda

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    EDITOR'S NOTE: Kristin currently is on a two-month journey in a small village in Rwanda called Musanze where she is teaching English at a non-profit organization that combats poverty through housing and education. While there, Kristin is maintaining a separate blog from her regular Schark Bytes column called Rhythms of Rwanda.

    Below is an excerpt from an entry today entitled "When Teacher Becomes Student." Be sure to check her blog regularly to follow her inspiration, adventures and photos in what is easily one of the most interesting summer stints for any NCAA student-athlete.

    "Today, we are going to learn pronouns," I announce to the students before me.

    It's my first time teaching at the MOC, a special session about writing. I've got to admit, I'm a little nervous, but I go with what I know and relay all of the tips that I've picked up as a writer over the last few years. After forty-five minutes of tools to make our writing smoother- namely transitional words and pronouns- we break for lunch and I breathe a sigh of relief that I didn't freeze up and forget my lesson.

    When lunch ends, I grab a notebook and pen and begin the 15-minute trek up the road through Musanze for a little learning of my own. Tucked away in a small row of buildings off the main road in Musanze is a 10×10 room filled with vibrant paintings and intricate sculptures. A zebra with brilliant black and white stripes and an oversized portrait of Paul Kagame in front of the Rwandan flag are just two of a dozen pieces that cover the walls, while sand-colored sculptures that swirl upward from the floor are all over the ground. The room is called 'Volcanoes Arts' and serves as a studio and shop for local artists Jean Pierre (John Peter) Masambuko and Jean d'amour (John of Love) Ntihemuka. It also serves as my own personal Kinyarwanda training center.

    The first time I met Masambuko and Ntihemuka was by chance on a morning walk down the road. When Masambuko and I ran into each other and realized we shared a mutual enthusiasm for learning the other's culture, we bonded instantly. His English is above average and my Kinyarwanda is sub-par; it's a match made in heaven.

    Continue reading at Kristin's Rhythms of Rwanda blog!

    Forty Years and Counting

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    EDITOR'S NOTE: Northwestern softball rising senior Kristin Scharkey submitted this piece as her final project in a spring quarter Medill School of Journalism course. We publish it here on her independent blog, Schark Bytes, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX.


    Anna Cassell is dressed in all black, accentuating the paleness of legs that have been hidden under shin guards for most of her life. She works diligently on the Northwestern University turf field with two other goalkeepers on the Wildcats' women's soccer team; juggling and taking rep after rep of shots on goal. The blonde-haired freshman started playing soccer when she was four-years-old, and she hasn't stopped since.


    "I'm on a scholarship here, and the fact that I can play the sport I love and pay for my college [tuition] that way is really lucky," Cassell says.


    I catch this bit of Cassell's practice before heading over to my own on the neighboring field. Our two teams often practice side-by-side on our respective fields like this in the spring, and I can't help but wonder if the opportunity we have is really luck like Cassell says.


    This past weekend on June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the legislation that paved the way for thousands of female athletes to have the opportunity to play college sports. Today more than 190,000 female athletes compete at the Division I level, according to data released by the NCAA in 2011. At the birth of Title IX, only one in 25 girls played sports. Now, it is one in three. Perhaps it has not been luck but the work of generations of women who have fought for equality in collegiate athletics.

    The Heart of Northwestern Softball

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    Editor's Note: The original version of this blog was submitted for publication in Softball Magazine. It is reprinted here today in honor of Northwestern's Senior Weekend, which begins at 2 p.m. CT Friday, May 11, 2012, against Illinois at Sharon J. Drysdale Field. The three member senior class will be honored prior to Saturday's 1 p.m. CT series finale.


    As soon as Adrienne Monka was old enough to attend preschool, her mother excitedly dressed her up with a bow in her hair and sent her off.

    At the end of the day, when she arrived to pick her daughter up, Elba Monka found that her preciously placed bow was gone from Adrienne's head and instead, lay in her cubby. When the preschooler explained that it had simply fallen off, her mother thought nothing of it and sent her back the next day with the bow firmly fastened atop her head. Come pick-up time, however, it was again found lying lonely in the cubby.

    Meet Katie Crandol: Northwestern's Inspirational 'Cat

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    Editor's Note: Northwestern will honor Katie Crandol prior to its noon CT first pitch Sunday, April 29, when it takes on Ohio State in a Big Ten doubleheader at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.

    The first time I met Katie Crandol, it was a sunny Saturday afternoon after our annual open practice. A 16-year-old cancer survivor and aspiring college softball player, Katie and her family had become the newest additions to our team through the Friends of Jaclyn program. As we shared a meal and exchanged stories about our season and their journey, it was apparent to each and every one of us that we were blessed with the opportunity to get know to someone with such a unique perspective on not only softball but also life itself.

    Out of Friendship Comes New Rivalry

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    If you know Michelle Batts, you know that she's one of the most outgoing, charismatic people you'll ever meet. She's the life of the party and thrives in social situations; and on the field, her bat talks just as loudly as her personality.

    If I could've somehow frozen that moment in between fly balls, I would've. That moment when I stood in centerfield and gazed around at the rest of my teammates scattered throughout the field in front of me. That moment when I could turn my head and see smiling fans to my right and smiling fans to my left, dozens decked out in purple and wearing the same logo across their chest as was across mine.

    Editors note: Last weekend, the B1G Mobile Tour came to Northwestern to showcase the new Stagg-Paterno Big Ten Championship Trophy and help spread the word about the conference's new Legends and Leaders division names. Kristin Scharkey served as our blogger for the Tour, finishing her experience with a final blog entry about what Honoring Legends, Building Leaders means to Northwestern student-athletes. Read the entire entry and watch a video on the B1G Mobile Tour blog featuring many of NU's most successful student-athletes as they share what competing in the B1G Conference means to them.

    Meet Tyler Jorgensen!

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    Hey 'Cats fans! This week I got to sit down with Assistant Director of Sports Performance Tyler Jorgensen, the newest addition to our sports performance team and Northwestern Softball's personal coach! We've already had three great weeks of work with Tyler and are looking forward to what we will accomplish with him over the next year!

    Two years ago, I was a freshman in the dorms and field hockey sensation Chelsea Armstrong was an Australian transfer student who just happened to live next door. Her roommate was my best friend and teammate so I frequented their room often, many times only catching little bits of conversation with Chelsea before she ran off to one of her legendary late-night study sessions in the library. Her accent garnered a slew of hall-wide fans; a number that vastly increased when everyone figured out just how tremendous she was on the field. It became normal for floor mates to cover Chelsea's door in newspaper clippings that heralded her performances.

    Eric Chun Seeks Return to Glory at Asian Amateur

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    Northwestern golfer Eric Chun knows what it's like to have success at the Asian Amateur Golf Championship.


    In November 2009, Chun was the runner-up at the tournament's inauguration, which earned him the right to qualify for the 2010 British Open at the International Final Qualifying Stage. There, the senior shot rounds of 67-71 and sank a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole to land a spot in his first Major Championship at legendary St. Andrews.

    We have a new group of National Pro Fastpitch Champions.


    And former Wildcats Robin Thompson and Tammy Williams are among the heralded.


    On Sunday, Aug. 21, the Chicago Bandits beat the USSSA Florida Pride 10-3 in the second game of a best-of-three series to win their second postseason title in franchise history. Williams went 1-for-4 at the plate and scored a run, while Thompson also scored after being inserted into the game to pinch run. Former Northwestern softball coach Lauren Lappin also played second base in the game for the Pride squad.

    PersaStrong (adj.)

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    Where do words get their meaning? How are they derived?


    Take the word 'strong,' for example. First used by Jakob Grimm in 1841, the word comes from the Germanic base strangaz, meaning "physically powerful," "powerful in effect" and "severe."  Over time, it has been redefined by people and events; shaped and molded into various connotations.


    There's 'strong' in the sense of having the ability to perform physically demanding tasks and 'strength' defined by skills and qualities that enable success. There's strong impressions, strong currents, strong cups of coffee, etc etc.


    And then there's 'PersaStrong.'


    PersaStrong (adj.):


    1. To possess strength, determination and/or talent like that of Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa. (i.e. "There's strong, then there's PersaStrong.")


    2. To establish yourself as an unquestionable leader and field general, capitalizing on your innate ability to escape the pocket and turn almost certain losses into big gains.


    3. To expect the same excellence from your teammates as you do from yourself (i.e. watching countless hours of film with as many teammates as you can bring along), attempting to not only elevate your own game but take the entire football program to another level.


    4. To not be satisfied with anything less than perfection and attend as many extra workouts as possible.


    5. To go 19-for-21 with three touchdowns in the 2010 season opener against Vanderbilt, when few believed you'd be able to fill Mike Kafka's shoes.


    6. To excel on and off the field at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, earning 2010 All-Big Ten first team honors on top of Big Ten Distinguished Scholar honors and two consecutive Academic All-Big Ten honors.


    7. To be the first player in Northwestern football history to be named to the program's 10-man Leadership Council four times, a group of players elected by teammates to be liaisons and leaders in program development.


    8. To compile stats that would compare favorably to past Heisman Trophy Winners. (i.e. If the passing yards Dan Persa accumulated in 2010 -- prior to his season-ending injury -- were projected over a full season, he would have thrown for 3,355 yards. The last nine Heisman-winning quarterbacks together have averaged 3,354 yards.)


    9. To stand on the brink of college football immortality as a preseason favorite to win college football's most prestigious individual award.


    But there's more to the definition than what might be tangibly found in a dictionary; more than the Big Ten record-breaking 73.5 percent completion rate and the fact that he's has already been declared a candidate for this year's Walter Camp Award, Manning Award, Davey O'Brien Award and Capital One Academic All-America honors.


    It's the willpower I see in Dan Persa's eyes during rehab as he works diligently to complete exercises, carrying the weight of a team that depends on him.


    It's the resolve I notice in his stature from my place in right field bleachers at Wrigley Field, as he watches our team battle Illinois in the chilling temperatures of November -- braving the cold on the sidelines -- not even a week out of surgery.


    It's the elation that comes when he evades would-be sackers and glides into the end zone; the excitement that follows as he marches the team down the field with passes that fly straight into the hands of Jeremy Ebert and Demetrius Fields.


    It's Ryan Field busting at the seams, packed in like sardines, simply because no one wants to miss the magic he has for us next.


    Dan Persa has the talent and opportunity to send shockwaves throughout college football this year reminiscent of those felt after the '95 season following Northwestern's storybook run to the Rose Bowl. There has been a lot of speculation, a lot of questions and concern about his health, but Persa has created his own brand of strength that is rooted in the intangibles described above; determination, willpower, resolve.


    When asked about the greatest lesson he's learned, Persa had just two words, "Never quit." In regards to the 2011 season, I have five...


    Let the Heisman campaign begin.

    A Tribute to Our 2011 Senior Class

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    This was it. The interview I'd been dreading to facilitate for weeks now.


    I trudge up the stairs with a disheartened defiance, crossing the hallway to punch the security code into the keypad of the locker room door. My eyes glisten with tears as I step inside the locker room, dozens of memories from the past two years flashing across my memory and dancing in front of my face as I flip on the light switch.


    An incoming text tells me they'll be arriving shortly. I had told them to meet me here -- our team's own private sanctuary of laughs, sweat, and tears-- the place where it all begins. I pass each of their lockers as I circle the room; #7... #8... #10... #18... #23. I can still remember that windy April day in 2008 when I met the five of them in this very room for the first time on my unofficial recruiting visit. They had busted through that locker room door, joking loudly about all sorts of nonsense and laughing the full-bellied kind of laughs that result from deep friendships. Noticing me in the corner, they had come straight over and treated me like an old friend, convincing me right then that there was no other college softball team I'd rather play for than theirs.


    My thoughts are interrupted as I hear the keypad click again. The door opens and the five of them enter in much of the same way as they did three years ago, exuberant and animated. As they gather around me -- the déjà vu uncanny -- I can't help but realize in the pit of my stomach that it has come time to say good-bye.


    "Let's start at the beginning," I say, "Tell me about your freshman year. What was your first impression of each other?"


    Kelly Quinn smiles as Michelle Batts looks to Robin Thompson with a sly grin. "Wait, this is a group interview?" Jordan Wheeler exclaims as Jessica Smith giggles uncontrollably.


    Their antics continue for a few more seconds. Typical for these five. Always joking, always laughing, always the life of the party. And yet at the same time, always willing to get down to business when necessary. I secretly begin to hope they realize this is that time, just as Wheeler takes the lead.


    "We all had a lot in common," she reminisces. "Our backgrounds -- even though they were super different -- [were similar in] the way our brains worked and the way that we cared about each other immediately. There was a lot of compassion right off the bat; everybody was looking out for each other right off the bat even though we

    had only known each other for a couple weeks."


    The group came to Northwestern from various parts of the country: Smith and Wheeler from southern California, Batts and Quinn from the Chicagoland area, and Thompson from Detroit, Mich. All standouts in their respective high school softball programs, they each had been drawn to the family atmosphere embedded into

    Northwestern Softball.


    "It was an environment where I felt welcome, and I loved everything about it," says Thompson as the others nod. "I felt like I could be me here. I felt like I wouldn't miss my family as much because there was that type of environment here. And it proved to be true."


    All five faces light up when I ask them what they'll remember most about their four years in that purple uniform.


    "Water balloon fights," says Batts, sending chuckles throughout the room.


    "Winning the Big Ten Championship," asserts Thompson, inciting an electric commotion throughout the room as the other four are quick to agree.


    "It was amazing knowing that all five of us were a part of that. Nobody was on the bench -- we were all in there," says Thompson.


    "We were all factors in that championship," agrees Batts.


    You can sense that the 2008 win over Michigan State that clinched the regular-season Big Ten title is still as real to them in this moment as it was two years ago. They're all talking at the same time -- lost in their own memories of that day -- each trying to express the sheer enormity of what they felt during that experience.


    "It was that good kind of pressure that's the reason you play sports," recalls Wheeler. "It was that fire in your belly that made you so nervous, but made you ready for anything."


    The moment quiets down, and I move forward with another question, one that I'm most curious to know and hear.


    "So, what have you learned from each other?" I ask. "What have these four other people taught you?"


    They pause -- contemplative -- but only for a moment.


    "I've learned to be a free spirit," says Thompson. "I'm a laid back type of person in general and I'm really to myself, but I've accepted something else and I love it."


    "I've learned how to work through the hardest times and still have friends at the end," says Batts, the others nodding in agreement, their eyes locked in a bond of friendship that has stood the test of time.


    "I've learned how to appreciate everybody's unique differences in a way that's more than just appreciating them but learning how to love them for it," affirms Wheeler as Quinn chimes in with: 'The level of confidence individually in each of them and the different ways that it is presented to create this outward personality of everyone is inspiring," she says.


    "I think I came in here naturally a very closed-off person, and I think that I've learned how to open up and be able to trust," ends Smith.


    As they each open up about the lessons they've taken from each other, I take a moment to sit back and gaze at the five faces in the circle before me, wondering if they'll ever know the impact they've not only had on each other, but on the rest of us as well. All five are so incredibly unique, yet are the same in the thousands of ways

    they've left their marks all over this program, this team and myself.


    To my right sits Kelly Quinn, without a doubt one of the most intelligent women I've come across. I cannot wait to see where life takes K-Q, whether it be engineering the next world-changing substance or baking more of her already famous pastries. Defined by dedication and consistency, Quinnie has represented Northwestern Softball both on and off the field with dignity and reliability.


    To her right is Jessica Smith. Our leader in the circle and one of the most determined women I know, Boots is easily one of the hardest working members of our team and leaves no doubt that she will control her own destiny. I will be forever grateful for the accountability we shared; that I would do anything for her as my pitcher and vice versa, both of us relying on a belief we had in each other that I could feel from way out in centerfield.


    Next to her is Robin Thompson, the fiercest competitor I've ever played the game

    with and our team's anchor at third base for the past four years. She's a natural-born leader with a quiet confidence and a compassion for others, the combination of which is extraordinary. Which, to be completely honest, is the only word that can even come close to justly describing RT. She has been and always will be one of my role models, my 'other half' and a woman I hold in the highest esteem.


    Next is Michelle Batts, one of my best friends and the glue to this 2011 team. An offensive threat whenever she steps in the box, Shelly creates an electric buzz throughout stadiums like nothing I've felt before; fans know as well as we do what one swing of her bat can mean. The life of the party, Michelle has the biggest heart of anyone I know and is as loyal as they come. She is the epitome of selfless, the definition of kindness. When I think of my top 10 moments of college thus far, Michelle has been the cause or been a part of every one of them.


    And finally, to my left is Jordan Wheeler. Truly the best defensive player I've ever played with, I literally cannot imagine a team without her on it, an outfield where she doesn't exist. When I think about that last inning at Penn State -- the last time I will ever be able to look to left field and find her next to me -- it feels as though someone is chopping my right arm off. Jo is a woman of confidence that has taught me to go after what I desire with fearless determination, a life-lover who has shown me what it means to live with no regrets.


    I'm jerked back into reality to ask them one final question -- what they'll miss most about each other. The room gets quiet and Wheeler delivers an answer that strikes a chord for the entire group.


    "I think I'm going to realize it when I'm gone, just how much I took happiness for granted, and how it easy it always was to get it from these four," she says.


    Her answer makes me realize just how grateful I am for the two years I had the opportunity to have with these five women. The happiness that Wheeler treasures is something that they've inadvertently spread to everyone in this program, and the thought of not having them here next year is surreal. In fact, it's almost unfathomable.


    Because the routine I've known for two years will be forever changed as soon I set foot on campus next year. Their laughter won't be there upon entering the locker room, and I won't be able to find them as I look down the dugout. I don't want to think about what life will be like without a Michelle Batts' embrace to run to or a pep talk from Robin Thompson to get me through the day. What is it going to feel like when I can't lock eyes with Jordan Wheeler from across the field to know that everything's going to be OK, or when I can't look to Jessica Smith's and Kelly Quinn's quiet determination to remind me to press on?


    And even as much as it hurts to lose them, as much as their departure leaves a gaping hole, I know we'll be fine -- I'll be fine -- because of everything they're leaving us with. They've taught each and every one of us what it means to be determined and confident, they've shown us all how to chase after your dreams with uninhibited



    So to the five women who have molded and shaped my life for the past two years, here's to you.


    Here's to your legacy, to everything you've left behind. Here's to the game-winning grand slams, the inning-ending diving catches, the strikeout pitches that made us all pump our fists. Here's to your work ethic that has inspired all of us every day, and to your families that have welcomed so many of us in with arms of love when our own couldn't be present.


    Here's to the Friday night hang-outs at the house, the Saturday afternoon victories and the Sunday night dinners. Here's to your light-hearted laughter -- a staple that has brought smiles to countless numbers of faces -- and to the definition of Northwestern Softball that you've helped shape along the way. I can't wait to see where life takes you in these next few years, or rather, where you will take life.


    Slowly but surely, I get up from my spot on the floor of the locker room and gather my things. As they begin to leave one-by-one, I realize that their Northwestern Softball experience will come full circle in a few months, when they'll be scattered across the nation like they once were before their time here began.


    But as I turn off the lights and walk down the stairs, it dawns on me that perhaps it would be inaccurate to say their journey has come full circle. The impact they've had on this program is far too great to say it ends here. Their circle is more of a spiral, continuing to wind in and out of all the lives they've touched here in Evanston

    and extending towards all of the possibilities they've made us believe are possible. They've embedded themselves in every nook and cranny of this program, spiraling through their four years here and many to come.


    So thank you, seniors, for everything you've given to this program, for everything you've given to me. Each of you have been an inspiration both on and off the field, reminding us every day of the reasons why we came to Northwestern, of why we play this game. You've led this team with grace, poise and confidence; teaching me and preparing me every day for this moment, when it has become my turn to step up and be the leader you have been to me.

    Fitz Is Ours, And He Is Here To Stay

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    Pat Fitzgerald is staying at Northwestern.


    Among rumors of job offers elsewhere, the head football coach announced Tuesday that a newly agreed upon contract extension will keep him here for not one, not two, but 10 years.


    Thank goodness.


    This is more than us just keeping the man who has led Northwestern to three-consecutive bowl games for the first time in team history. It's more than the fact Fitzgerald is a two-time Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Award winner, a 2008 College Football Hall of Fame inductee and, most recently, the inaugural recipient of the 1WORLD Sports Coach of the Year award.


    Pat Fitzgerald has become much more than just the head football coach.


    He is the heartbeat of this university.


    The man has established himself as the face of Northwestern sports, defining what it means to truly bleed purple, and legions of fans have followed behind him. Everywhere you go on campus -- even in the offseason -- you'll find students wearing "Fitz is my Facebook friend" t-shirts. Walk through any dorm and you'll find popsicle sticks with his face taped onto them; wall art in spring, football game props in the fall. His posts on Twitter are read religiously by athletes, fans and alumni alike, and the videos he uploads onto his Facebook are 'liked' by the dozen.


    He and his players have reached out to Evanston and the surrounding communities in dozens of ways. Always a proponent of the university's academic excellence, his players achieved their highest GPA in team history last quarter with a 3.02 mark. And most recently, he was a judge at the first ever Student-Athlete Talent Show. It's the little things he does that have allowed the students of this university to claim him as their own. And now, it's going to stay that way until 2020.


    As a student here, I've witnessed the Fitz frenzy that has taken over the school. As an athlete, I've experienced his charisma first-hand. To see Fitz in and around the stadium facilities -- always greeting us with a warm hello -- and to constantly find him cheering loudly at our games down the left field line has been a priceless part of my experience here at Northwestern. Even finding his online congratulations over Facebook and Twitter to fellow Northwestern teams is a small gesture that has spoken volumes.


    His players rave about his likeability and charm. Their respect for him is through the roof, and they sing praises of his annual Thanksgiving invites into his home.


    To the outside world, Pat Fitzgerald is the coach who has led Northwestern to three-consecutive bowl games, the man who, earlier this year, was named a finalist for the inaugural Joseph V. Paterno Coach of the Year Award.


    But to the students of Northwestern, he is ours.


    He's the common link between the saxophonist and the basketball player, the engineer and the journalist.


    He's the figure we search for on the Ryan Field sidelines from the stands, the voice we would recognize from a mile away.


    He's the coach we've rallied around come fall, and the family man we've come to know and love in spring.


    And he's here to stay.

    Northwestern University's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted the school's first ever Student-Athlete Talent Show Tuesday night, May 3, showcasing off-the-field talents of athletes across six sports. Over 250 students and members of the Evanston community attended the event, and all proceeds went to support the Kathryn Mahoney Fund. A senior gymnast at Michigan State, Mahoney fractured her C6 vertebra in a practice accident in December 2010 and currently is continuing her rehabilitation at home in Western Springs, Ill.


    Hosted by senior softball player Michelle Batts and junior soccer player Christian Ludke, the show was set up American-Idol style, with a panel of judges that included head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, strength and conditioning coach Jay Hooten, Dean of Students Burgell Howard, and Manager of Business Development Amy Potter.


    Let's Get Down To Business

    The night began with senior field hockey player Katie Lynch and Andrew Bouverette, who weren't messing around with their rendition of Lynch's original song, "Someone to Come Home To." While Bouverette set the mood with a pair of macaranas, Lynch played acoustic guitar; the pair's beautiful harmonies meshed perfectly to complete an understated yet whimsical folk vibe.


    Going the Extra Mile

    Next up was senior cross country runner Madeline Rozwat and her friend Douglas Husking, a member of NU's own acapella group -- Freshman Fifteen. The pair sang a lovely rendition of "I Run To You" by Lady Antebellum, completely with on-stage chemistry and bubbly energy. The judges, however, said they wanted more "pizzazz."


    Arabian Nights

    Talk about a showstopper. The third act of the night featured junior soccer player John Rogers and sophomore lacrosse player Beatrice Conley. Decked out in white harem pants, a purple vest, and a red solo cup atop his head, Rogers began by painfully belting out the first verse of "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. Let's just say, Roger's better hope to find a magic lamp if he wishes to continue his singing career. The act was saved when Conley emerged as Jasmine -- with a voice fit for a Disney princess -- and the two began a duet of comedic Jekyll meets Hyde proportions.


    Teach Me How to Dougie?

    The show was then interrupted by a surprise act from junior soccer player Peter O'Neal, junior footballer Bo Cisek and academic advisor Davon Robb. While O'Neal attempted to serenade Judge Amy Potter with a sappy rendition of "My Girl" and Cisek rolled up his sleeves (to reveal his tattoo much to the chagrin of Judge Fitzgerald) and read Fitz's favorite song- Livin' On A Prayer- in poetic form, Robb tried to play bass decked out in a purple wig. The three were quickly interrupted by emcee Michelle Batts, who attempted to "teach" them the art of a good talent show act by pulling teammate Robin Thompson out of the audience for a 'Dougie' tutorial.


    2/5 of a Great Act

    Act five featured sophomore Jake Gregus and another member of his five-man band, The Have-Naughts. The duo performed their own original song, "Rising Sun," a mix of folk and rock musical genius, and the act was highlighted by a guitar solo in Judge Fitz's face! Duly noted is the fact that Gregus managed to get on stage with a casted broken foot and still rock out!


    Me, Myself, and I

    Next up was yours truly, Kristin Scharkey, with an acoustic cover of "Need" by Tyrone Wells. The performance was the second time I've played in front of an audience; my first being an open mic night at the Brothers K Coffee House last April. On both occasions, Batts has taken on the role of 'manager' in encouraging a singer who's usually too afraid to get in front of a crowd to do the shows. It was a privilege to play in honor of Kathryn Mahoney last night; she is truly the epitome of courage and an inspirational athlete.


    Click It Or Ticket

    The night ended when student-athletes turned Youtube sensations Pat Gibson and Michael Bolden staged a live performance of their viral music video, "The Seatbelt Dance." Although Coach Fitz had warned at the start of the show that he would walk out if he heard an utterance of  "seatbelts," he ended up staying to be highly entertained by Gibson and Bolden's antics. As they pranced and danced around stage, the duo closed the show with plenty of laughs and cheers from the audience.


    To see what all the fuss was about, check out "The Seatbelt Dance" on Youtube.


    Give My Regards to Broadway

    After the judge's scores had been tallied (and Hooten was through channeling his inner Simon Cowell), the winner of SAAC's Student-Athlete Talent Show 2011 was revealed to be a certain centerfielder with a blog called ScharkBytes.


    The highlight of my night, however, was having the opportunity to meet Mahoney, an athlete whom I have the deepest amount of respect for. Whenever I had started to get nervous before performing, I'd simply look out to the first row of the audience and find her gentle smile. I know I speak for all of my fellow NU student-athletes when I say that she is an inspiration, and I can think of no one better to honor than Mahoney with this show.


    Editor's Note From Scharkey: If you would like to make an additional donation to Kathryn's fund, donations can be sent directly to the credit union at Michigan State Federal Credit Union, 3777 West Road, PO Box 1208, East Lansing, MI, 48826 or to Kathie Klages at 312 Jenison Field House, East Lansing, MI 48824-1025. Checks can be made out to the "Kathryn Mahoney Fund." The account number is 398385-05; however, that doesn't have to be on the check. People can also call 517-333-2424 and make a deposit via virtual check at no cost. Thank you for your continued support of Kathryn!


    The Tōhoku Earthquake Through Wildcats' Eyes

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    Lauren Lappin's first impression of the Japan Women's Softball League was better than she could've ever imagined. A former Northwestern softball coach from 2009-10, Lappin had signed to play professionally overseas in Japan and found herself immediately welcomed into the country with open arms.


    After a three-hour drive from the airport into the city of Mooka, Lappin pulled up to her new apartment to discover an unforgettable scene. Hanging out of windows of the top floors of the building were many of her new teammates, waving and yelling "Lappin! Lappin!" in clear anticipation and excitement. Others ran outside and practically trampled the USSSA Pride catcher and her interpreter as they got out of the car, reaching for her luggage and a hug. The gesture was one that Lappin would never forget and became the first of many experiences to convince her that, though the language barrier was considerable, she would have no problems assimilating with ease.


    Run by the Japan Softball Association, the Japan Women's Softball League is comprised of 12 teams that compete in a 22-game split season; the first half from April to early-June and the second half from September to November. Each team is allowed two foreigners on their roster, providing many players from the United States the opportunity to continue playing softball year-round after college. Currently, there are eight Americans competing on Japanese teams for the 2011 season.


    Lappin's first practice only confirmed her belief that she would fit right in. That morning, Lappin learned that in Japan, the team takes on all the responsibilities of the field crew before warm-ups even begin, and meticulous six-hour practices are considered short. Yes, it was a different way to approach the sport that she had fallen in love with as a little girl, but it gave her an entirely new level of respect for her teammates and for the game. She went to bed that night excited to learn from this group of women who had a fresh perspective on the game she had come to live and breathe, unaware that the next morning on March 11 -- just 48 hours after she had arrived in Mooka -- everything was about to change.


    Just 182 miles to the southwest of Mooka, in Kariya, another former Wildcat had also set foot on Japanese soil. Eileen Canney, a two-time All-America pitcher who led Northwestern to the World Series in 2006 and 2007, had landed on March 2 and was gearing up for her second season in the league with Team Denso. Canney was coming off her first summer as a member of USA Softball and was eager to return to her old teammates to help Team Denso to its second playoff appearance in team history.


    The team wasted no time beginning extensive training after Canney's arrival. For two weeks, she and her teammates ran, practiced and scrimmaged in preparation for the 2011 season. Friday, March 11 started out like any other day -- a workout in the first-floor weight room of their dorm -- but unbeknownst to the women of Team Denso, nothing could have prepared them for what came next.


    "All of a sudden, one of the girls spotted the clock shaking and called our attention to the movement of the clock and weights," said Canney via email. "It wasn't the quick shaking like I've experienced before. The closest thing I can compare it to was being on a rocky boat. Everything was swaying back and forth at a pretty fast pace, and it was really difficult to maintain your balance because the swaying was so strong."


    The women ran out of the weight room and gathered together on a nearby field to keep away from falling objects. As teammates became visibly upset and frantically checked their phones for information, Canney could only stand by and wait in fearful anticipation, unable to understand and communicate in Japanese. Eventually, she and the rest of the world would learn that the swaying she felt inside the weight room was the beginning of one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in world history; Japan had been devastated by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake -- one of only five ever recorded -- which then unleashed a deadly tsunami near the town of Sendai.


    "Once it was safe, we went inside to watch the news and contact our families, but a couple girls couldn't get a hold of their families and friends," said Canney. "It was an internalized panic and fear that you could sense in the entire room as we sat and watched the Sendai Airport get engulfed by water."


    North of Tokyo, Lappin and Team Honda had just begun to warm up their arms for practice in Mooka when the ground began to shake. A southern California-native, Lappin remembers the earthquake initially feeling somewhat typical of those she had experienced growing up. Only seconds later, however, the entire field began to sway like nothing she had previously encountered before.


    "You could see and hear the leaves on the trees moving. We were right across the street from the Honda [Motor Company] parts factory, and you could hear the metal factory doors swinging," said Lappin, her voice slow and deliberate. "We all ran out to the middle of the field and were huddled down on the ground, pretty terrified. It was probably the scariest thing I've ever felt. It seemed like forever, and it was so aggressive. It was a good minute of swaying and then it would slow down a little bit and start to settle, and then it would start swaying again for another minute. The girls were yelling in Japanese and I was yelling in English, and we were literally squatting on the ground grabbing onto each other and waiting for it to end," she said.


    Once the earthquake subsided, Lappin and her teammates were evacuated to a close-by parking lot with every other Honda factory worker and employee, where they endured equally intense aftershocks every two to five minutes for over an hour. When the women were finally able to return to their apartment to gather a few belongings, they found the power was out in almost the entire prefecture and their building was in shambles. The team began preparing to sleep in cars until word was sent that a bus would be coming for them to stay in overnight. It was there that Lappin first saw images of the incredible devastation.


    "I couldn't understand [the television on the bus], obviously, but the pictures and video footage spoke for themselves. At that point, I just thought it was unbelievable. First of all, it was just..."


    Lappin's voice trailed off as she struggled under the emotion and memories of the tragedy she had watched and endured. "It was just so sad," she continued, "Such an upsetting thing to happen for that many people -- and then, what were the chances that I was there?"


    Her question hung ominously in the air for several moments, as we both considered the possibilities of what could've been.


    "We were lucky that we weren't close enough to the coast to get hit by the tsunami," she said with a sense of gratitude that could only come from one who had experienced the disaster from such a unique vantage point. "We were all safe, and we had each other."


    Over the next week, both teams attempted to practice until the news broke of radiation leaks in several nuclear power reactors as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. It was then that Lappin, Canney and all other American players learned they were being sent back to the United States. Lappin and Team Honda had become the closest team in the league in proximity to the radiation; a mere 83 miles from the Daiichi nuclear power plant, while Canney and Team Denso were 272 miles away from the Fukushima plant.


    Exactly one week after the earthquake had occurred, Lappin flew back home to Los Angeles. Canney followed suit a day later and returned to Chicago. Though they were grateful to be safely home, the two women found it incredibly difficult to leave the teammates that had become friends and the organizations they had bonded with as a result of the disaster. They were expected to keep up with their training in hopes of returning to Japan as soon as was reasonably possible.


    Canney was home for just one week when it was deemed safe enough for her to travel back overseas. She returned to Japan on March 29 and quickly got back to practicing and scrimmaging with Team Denso in preparation for league play. Lappin would ultimately make the decision not to return for the first half of the league's split season but continues to have the utmost respect and admiration for the group of women that she was a part of during her time in Japan.


    "The girls were amazing and took care of me and took care of each other. I could not have been in a better country or culture when disaster struck," Lappin said.


    As Canney, Team Denso and the rest of the league continued to prepare in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunamis, there was talk of delaying their 2011 season. Opening day of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPBL) had already been postponed by two weeks with the damage done to several stadiums by the disaster, and facilities were looking at having to conserve energy in order to host night games. The NPBL was forced to schedule more day games in order to accommodate the worsening power shortages, and the postponement of their season put the start of softball's into question as well.


    Against high odds, however, the Japan Softball League was able to hold opening weekend April 9-10 -- as scheduled -- at the Nagoya Dome in Nagoya, located just north of Kariya. All 12 teams were present, and crowds of 8,000 to 10,000 flocked to the Dome to cheer on their respective squads. Many fans received free tickets to the games as a gift from the league, and fundraisers were held the entire weekend to raise money for relief efforts in Northern Japan. Ironically, Canney and Team Denso earned their first league win over Honda at the Dome, playing with the utmost passion and heart that Canney says comes from recognizing how fortunate they are to still have the opportunity to play.


    "It was such an honor and an uplifting two days to play in that dome! Each of the 12 teams in our league were there, and the support of each company was tremendous," she said. "Since the earthquake, it has been great to go out and battle as a team in games. There are still some weird moments for us when thinking about the fact that there are still aftershocks and radiation problems, and it can be difficult to focus on the small things of softball when you know there are major problems and people's lives at stake in the rest of the country. Our biggest contribution to the rest of Japan is to focus every day on getting better and to lift their spirits by playing with extra positive energy."


    Team Denso is currently 2-1 against league opponents and will play a total of 11 games by the end of May before wrapping up the first half of their split season. Before the first pitch of every contest, Canney says, they will continue to hold a moment of silence to respect and honor the lives of those who were lost in the earthquake and tsunami.


    In recent weeks, the team has been putting much of their energy towards coming alongside the harder-hit teams in Northern Japan. Each and every team in the Japanese Softball League have been collecting clothes, softball gear and signed balls and posters to donate to those collegiate and high school teams that have had to cancel their seasons or lost a lot of their facilities and gear.


    "Everyone within the country is doing what they can and attempting to recover lost people and items washed away in the tsunami. It is so inspiring to see everyone come together in this time of need," said Canney.

    [Editor's note: In addition to Canney and Lappin, former Wildcat All-Americans Tammy Williams and Garland Cooper also have competed in Japan's Women's Softball League in recent years, and their thoughts continue to be with their former teammates overseas. Join the conversation and leave your thoughts in the comments section of Kristin's Schark Bytes blog.]


    Reflecting On Our 1,000th Win

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    One Thousand wins.


    One. Thousand. Wins. In program history.


    This past Saturday afternoon, all 22 of us were a part of something special, of something bigger than ourselves. With a 6-3 win over Loyola (Chicago) in the second game of a doubleheader, Northwestern softball amassed the 1,000th win in the history of the program since it began in 1976 under head coach Mary Conway.


    I don't think any of us were thinking about the implications of that win in the last few minutes of the 7th inning. I'm not even sure half of us realized the significance of that moment. But we've certainly been thinking about it ever since.

    To reach 1,000 wins is a milestone in the world of college softball, a distinguished asterisk in the NCAA history books. But what does an achievement like this truly mean for a program?


    For legendary Northwestern softball head coach Sharon J. Drysdale, the answer lies in simple math.


    "Even if you had 40 wins a year for 10 years, that would [only] be 400 wins. Twenty years would be 800. It would take over 20 years to get a 1,000 wins, and we didn't play a lot of games back [when I first started coaching]," said Drysdale, who began a 23-year tenure as head coach at Northwestern with a 16-game schedule in 1979.


    "When you think about it like that," said Drysdale, "A thousand takes a long time."


    Time. It seems to be the key to Drysdale's mathematical formula; the unseen piece that ties win number one and win number 1,000 for Northwestern softball together. Because it's taken those great seasons and those not-so-great seasons, the Big Ten Championships and the Women's College World Series appearances. It's taken those 171 women from 1976 to 2011 that put on the purple jersey to reach 1,000.


    "I'm proud to even be a part of such an important milestone for the program," said Garland Cooper via email -- a 3-time All-American and 3-time Big Ten Player of the Year who led Northwestern to back-to-back Women's College World Series appearances in 2006 and 2007. "To me, it means that the hard work of all the people that came before me, I played beside and that play now has paid off."


    Along the way to 1,000 wins, Northwestern has earned seven Big Ten titles (including the school's first for a women's program in 1982), made five Women's College World Series appearances, and produced nine All-Americans. At a university where Drysdale says "the sacrifices and challenges are greater" to excel as both a student and an athlete, Northwestern softball has continually proven that excellence will be achieved, no matter what obstacles lie in the way.


    "I think the milestone of 1,000 wins represents the great support of our university and the amazing work that has gone into our program by the student athletes that have participated, the coaches and all of our stakeholders," said current head coach Kate Drohan. "I was just excited that we got to be on the field for that milestone. We were lucky to be the ones in uniform because [1,000 wins] is symbolic of the investment that hundreds of people have put into our program."


    To measure the significance of 1,000 wins is to peel back the layers and generations of Northwestern softball. One thousand wins is 35 years of female student-athletes excelling both on and off the softball field. It's 12,775 days filled with tailgates, Halloween costumes and road trips to Penn State. It's 306,600 hours spent largely in the weight room or on the stadium stairs.


    One thousand wins is 18,396,000 minutes of drop steps, ground balls and swings off the tee. It's 1,103,760,000 seconds; only a few of which are needed to steal a base, throw that strikeout pitch or hit a ball over the fence.


    As I sit here today and read over the master list of Northwestern softball players and coaches in the record book, I have a better understanding of Drysdale's equation. Although the list starts and ends with two current players -- sophomore Lauren Ackerman and junior Olivia Zolke -- there have been an incredible number of contributions made over the years by the dozens of names in between. Finding my teammates' names next to former players such as Eileen Canney or Lisa Ishikawa instantly puts 1,000 in perspective.


    One thousand wins is not just a number. It's not just a 6-3 win over Loyola on April 2.


    One thousand wins is every woman who's ever worn purple, every team that's scratched and clawed their way to a W. It's a telling symbol of Northwestern softball's past, present and future.


     "When you get to be my age, you look back and you think, "That was a good ride," said Drysdale. "I'm glad I jumped on and held on."

    An Official Welcome to Schark Bytes!

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    Hello and welcome to Schark Bytes!

    First and foremost, I encourage everyone to become active in the blog by using the comments section at the bottom of each entry! If this is your first time reading, I'm honored and glad that you are here. If you've been to the blog before, thank you for your continued support!

    Either way, you might be curious what Schark Bytes is all about; how it came to be and why it's being written in the first place. Or perhaps you're wondering who is this Kristin Scharkey anyway?  I was recently asked to write an entry that answered all of those questions, and found that this is the best way to do so.

    You know that instant when the entire world goes quiet? When everything around you fades noiselessly into the background and suddenly, you're left with only yourself and the moment surrounding you?

    That's the kind of sensation I feel in three very distinct places: in the batter's box, on stage and behind a pen.

    You may know me best as the outfielder from Yorba Linda, Calif., the sophomore slapper wearing #3 on her back. It's my love for this game that brought me to Northwestern to play for a program rich with tradition and made up of girls I now consider family.

    Others know me as a musician. I've been singing on stage since I could talk and taught myself to play guitar throughout high school. Always on stage with a school or church choir, I never dreamed of performing as a solo act. That all changed around this time last year, when current senior Michelle Batts encouraged me to play and sing at a downtown Evanston coffee shop's open mic night. It was an experience I'll never forget and has opened the door to numerous performances since.

    I'm also a daughter, a Christ-follower and a die-hard Lakers fan. I'm a big sister, a terrible cook and an avid reader.

    And to the core, I am a writer. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with this school the moment I stepped on campus and toured the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Marketing Communications. Consistently ranked near or at the top of the nation's top journalism schools, Medill made it impossible for a softball player with a passion for writing not to choose Northwestern.

    A year and a half into getting my degree, I can say it's one of the best decisions I have made. Classes are challenging and thrilling--and though I'm only a sophomore--Medill has already deepened my love for writing and strengthened my skill set as a journalist to an unbelievable extent. I've had the opportunity to write for several on-campus publications, for ESPN RISE, and now, for NU Sports. I write to tell the stories that will make an impact on the lives of readers. I write to express my own soul, as well as to tell the stories of others that need to be told.

    Hence, the reasoning behind Schark Bytes, and the writer behind the words. I hope this blog becomes your window into the 2011 Northwestern softball team; from the people we meet to the places we go to the experiences we share. Thank you for taking this journey with me and allowing me to tell it to you through my own eyes. We're looking forward to seeing you all at our double header against Loyola this Saturday at the Sharon J. Drysdale Field! Go 'Cats!


    From Past to Present: The Legacy of Wearing Purple

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    1985. It's the year that Ndidi Opia Massay arrived on the Northwestern campus, a bright-eyed freshman determined to lead the Northwestern softball team to a national championship. It's the year that Joe Girardi would become an All-American and prepare to wrap up his career as a Northwestern baseball player, a senior catcher destined for more than just playing in the major leagues.


    It's also the year the two would meet.


    Massay was recruited to Northwestern by head softball coach Sharon Drysdale and would ultimately start in left field her freshman year. She went on to win two Big Ten titles and acquire three all-conference selections throughout her career, as well as earn her degree from the Medill School of Journalism. Before all of the accolades, however, she was just the new kid on campus. A freshman learning the ropes who -- on a wintery day in 1985 -- happened to stumble upon a Northwestern baseball catchers' workout that Girardi was taking part in.


    Determined, the freshman -- a catcher herself -- marched right up to the senior with her chin jutted out and her eyes brazen.


    "I want in," she declared.


    From that point forward, Massay took extra catching reps with Girardi whenever she could. Their time together was an invaluable part of her freshman year and would later prove to be one of the many occasions in which Massay left no stone unturned in her pursuit of greatness. She has paved the way for young women like myself, and is just one of many Northwestern softball players who have set the standard for generations to come.


    The first time Massay told me this story was this past summer when I had the opportunity to work for her and fellow Northwestern softball alum Garland Cooper at ESPN RISE. Not only did I walk away from that job with first-hand experience and invaluable knowledge of the sports journalism industry, but I also came back with a summer's worth of stories that spanned 30 years of Northwestern softball. We'd reminisce about Massay's tenure under Coach Drysdale and Cooper's memories of the 2006 and 2007 Women's College World Series. Though we were from three completely different generations of Northwestern softball, the relationships that summer proved to be a perfect picture of the ways in which the blood, sweat and tears that go along with wearing that purple uniform transcend time.


    The legacy of Northwestern softball extends beyond the white lines that so many of us have played between. Even as I was beginning to write this blog at the DeMarini Invitational (Fullerton, Calif.), I received an encouraging email from Northwestern alum Christine Brennan, an award-winning USA Today columnist who covered Northwestern Softball for the Daily Northwestern in the spring of 1978. Brennan was as much a part of that '78 team as the women wearing the uniform, and that simple fact has allowed me the incredible opportunity to establish a relationship with one of the most widely-read and respected female sports columnists in the United States. I met Brennan at a networking event for female student-athletes at Northwestern last year, and we've been in touch ever since.


    Wearing a Northwestern uniform is so much more than your four years in Evanston. It's about a lifetime and a network of women who have worn the color purple.


    It's former Northwestern All-American and 2010 USA National Team member Eileen Canney returning to campus while on a week-long break from playing professionally in Japan to pitch batting practice to this year's team. It's former Wildcats Tammy Williams and Nicole Pauly -- now members of the Chicago Bandits and Akron Racers, respectively, of National Pro Fastpitch -- visiting our practice facility every Monday night for the hitting and pitching clinics our team puts on in the community. It's Cooper, a former Northwestern All-American and two-time Women's College World Series participant, writing a detailed explanation at the request of current player Emily Allard describing how she and her teammates got to Oklahoma City. It's Allard reading that letter to the entire team crammed into a little hotel room before our first game this year. And it's us realizing in that moment that our past has spoken of greatness; now it's time to speak it ourselves.


    [Ed note from Scharkey: Be sure to read the Big Ten's feature story on Ndidi Massay!]

    When it Rains, We Visit "The Rock"

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    For some reason, rain on the West Coast has been a prevalent problem during our pre-conference games this year. It seems like every time we gear up for a tournament across the country, we're hoping that the projected forecast changes in our favor. This weekend was no different. After arriving in Palo Alto, Calif., last Thursday, it proceeded to rain for three days straight, canceling five of our scheduled games and forcing us to play two doubleheaders on Monday and Tuesday instead.

    So what exactly does a Division I softball team do when the rain won't go away? When numerous rain dances and hours of waiting ultimately end in game delays and cancelations? I'll give you four choices:

    A.      Sleep

    B.      Play hacky-sack

    C.      Cry

    D.     Take a team trip to one of the most legendary federal penitentiaries in the world

    If you guessed option 'D,' you're correct! After days and days of disappointing rain-outs, our coaches surprised us with a day-trip to Alcatraz Island, the world-renown prison that has previously housed notorious criminals such as Al "Scarface" Capone and the "Birdman" Robert Stroud. The penitentiary is located on an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, known as "The Rock" and is now open for tours all throughout the day.

    I knew that Sunday was going to be a spectacular day when I started off my morning by watching a flock of seagulls assail senior Michelle Batts. Let's be honest, it's not every day that you turn around to see your clean-up hitter running across the crowded streets of San Francisco -- arms flailing and sunglasses crooked -- attempting to keep a fresh bowl of calamari for herself as seagull after seagull takes a dive at the newly purchased meal. I had kindly taken on the role of tour guide since I'd been to San Francisco several times before, but may or may not have 'forgotten' that my favorite little seafood vendor just happened to be located next to a common roost for dozens of hungry seagulls.

    We survived the attack of the bay birds, however, and after a ferry ride that gave us a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco itself, all 22 of us (plus a few family members), landed on Alcatraz Island. The entire tour lasted about two hours, as you weave in and out of the prison guided by an audio recorder and a set of headphones that is given to each visitor. We found ourselves locked in numerous prison cells, standing in the exact corridors where officers had been taken captive years ago, and examining the grates that three men had slipped through in their escape attempt. We even played imaginary softball on the courtyard field overlooking the bay where prisoners were given free time each day! All in all, the experience was incredibly interesting and educational, and I know each one of us was so grateful for the opportunity.

    When we weren't exploring federal prisons, we kept ourselves busy by cheering on the men's basketball team in their NIT win over Boston College and with endless rounds of games like 'Mafia.' Of course, we were also constantly entertained by 'Sheiki's Daily Text,' a joke sent out every day by freshman Amanda Mehrsheikh, and shared many laughs when sophomore Emily Allard 'pied' junior Olivia Zolke's father, Scott, in the face.

    Not to mention the fact that when we visited freshman Sammy Albanese's home for dinner and time with our families, ping-pong battles of epic proportions took place for hours on end. Imagine: 30-to-40 people crammed around a single ping-pong table, cheering and heckling those in the game to the nth degree. There were father/daughter doubles teams like freshman Marisa Bast and her dad, Michael; age-old duos Kate and Caryl Drohan; and of course, crowd-favorites Denise "D-Baby" Baker and her sister, Kimmie "Auntie Boots" Radford, mother and aunt of senior Jessica Smith. Sweat filled the air, the sound of ping-pong balls echoed throughout the house and emotions ran high; but boy, that night was just what we needed.

    The rain might've kept the 'Cats off the field, but it didn't stop us from enjoying the sights of San Francisco, our families and each other. Times like this past spring break allowed for our team to build on an already rock-solid bond as we head into this weekend's Big Ten opener against Michigan.


    A League of Her Own

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    "Coaches," the umpire calls, and our team begins to circle up as our head coach Kate Drohan heads to home plate to exchange the lineup cards.

    "Here we go 'Cats."

    "Let's do this, purple team."

    "We win the first inning, Purp."

    The familiar pre-game chatter starts up as we wait for the lineups to be exchanged. It's 9 a.m on a sunny Friday morning, our first game against UC Davis at San Diego State University.

    "Oh hey two-four," an unfamiliar voice murmurs from the stands, and everyone in our circle turns around, searching for the fan who has just called out our shortstop, Emily Allard.

    Standing there, with the sun reflecting off a grin as wide as his cheeks would stretch, is Emily's father, Bill. A truck driver who can only come home and see his family about once or twice a month, it's the first time in her career that he's been in the stands to watch her play in a Northwestern uniform, and it's a complete and utter surprise to her.

    Emily's hand flies up to her mouth as tears begin rolling down her cheeks. She turns back to the circle and bends over -- hands on her knees -- overcome with emotion. I try to peer through the tears in my eyes and catch 17 of our teammates in the same state -- wiping away their own tears or resting their hands over their hearts.

    "When I turned around and I saw his 'stunner shade' sunglasses and his hair that hadn't been cut in four weeks because he never has time to get a haircut, my heart sunk and my face lit up. The only thing I could think to do was cry and smile, and all I wanted to do was give him a hug but I knew I had to play the game first," reminisced Emily.

    And play the game she did. That day, Emily went 5-for-5 and broke a Northwestern softball record with five hits in a single game, all in front of the man who left his truck in Los Angeles to watch his daughter for the weekend.

    "I didn't even know I broke the record until after the game," said Emily. "I just wanted -- since it was the first time he'd ever seen me play -- I just wanted to make him proud. I wanted to get a hit for my dad. I didn't know I was going to get five!"

    Those five hits were for the man who used to wake up at 5:30 a.m. on the weekends to take her to tournaments, the same man who caught Emily in the backyard for the duration of a ten-year pitching career. A father who promised ice cream after a home run and jokingly threatened to tie bacon in front of Emily's helmet to make his daughter run faster.

    "I think the greatest thing that made our relationship so strong throughout my career was the fact that he wasn't a yeller. It was never, 'you weren't good enough' or 'you need to do better.' It was always just no matter the outcome, after the game his arms would be open for me to come into, good or bad, home run or 0-for-4," said Emily.

    I've experienced first-hand the relationship between Emily and her dad, and I've never seen a father and daughter more alike. Theirs is a relationship of trust, respect and love, and there's no question where Emily got her sense of humor. Although they only get to see each other a few times a year, it's like they've never spent a day apart.

    For a year and a half, I've watched my friend's face light up whenever she receives a text from her dad. I've listened to her giggle uncontrollably when they're on the phone together. And on the slight chance that Bill happens to be driving through the Midwest, I've seen every attempt to be made for a last-minute rendezvous, even if only for 30 precious minutes.

    But none of those moments compare to that Friday morning in San Diego. On a morning when, much to the chagrin of Jimmy Dugan, there was crying in softball.