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    Season Recap: The McCollum Era Begins

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM First-year head coach Kelly McCollum led NU against one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2004.
    First-year head coach Kelly McCollum led NU against one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2004.

    Nov. 30, 2004

    EVANSTON, Ill. -- After a 2003 season in which Northwestern posted its best record since 1996 (9-9), and lost only three seniors, Northwestern looked to continue its upward movement in 2004 under first year head coach and former Wildcat student-athlete Kelly McCollum. Despite the appearances of its 7-13 record, NU took many strides toward regaining its powerhouse form of the mid 90's.

    Perhaps the greatest of these strides was a schedule that was unquestionably one of the most daunting in the country. Sixteen of the Wildcats' 20 opponents were ranked or receiving votes in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association/STX coaches poll at some point during the season. NU took on five schools ranked in the final top 10 ranking and three of the schools (Duke, Maryland and Michigan State) that reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

    McCollum's first season got off to an amazingly quick start with wins over perennial powerhouses James Madison, Kent State and Ohio. Following a win over Fairfield, the Wildcats had their first 4-0 start since 1993. NU earned the first two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, with sophomore Meghan Small (Macungie, Pa./Moravian Academy) and senior Candice Cooper (Winnetka, Ill./New Trier) earning the nods.

    Northwestern dominated in those first four matches, outscoring their opponents 17-4. After their quick start, however, the 'Cats hit the brunt of their tough schedule. NU did put together an impressive double-overtime, 1-0 win over Iowa (although the contest was officially a nonconference affair). The Wildcats also defeated Indiana, 2-1, in OT to finish the conference slate tied for fifth place in the Big Ten, NU's best conference finish since 2000.

    In the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern again took the Hawkeyes to overtime, but fell 3-2 in the opening round. Senior Morgan Kuhn (Chesterfield, Mo./Lafayette) was named to the All-Tournament team.

    Cooper put together one of the finest seasons in Northwestern history. Her 21 goals and 46 points this season put her in third on NU's all-time single-season scoring list. Cooper finished her career with 90 points, placing her eighth all-time in scoring at Northwestern. She was named a second-team NFHCA/STX All-American and a's third-team All-America. She was also a second-team All-Big Ten selection along with Small.

    Cooper and Small were also named to the NFHCA All-Region squad.

    Small led a solid group of underclassmen with 12 points on the year. As a group, Small, freshman Cassie Miller (Lake Forest, Ill./Lake Fores), and juniors Ellen Schlafy (St. Louis, Mo./MICDS) and Christine Nannicelli (Walpole, Mass./Walpole) scored 44 of Northwestern's 111 points.

    Sophomore Sherrie-Anne Nyberg (Kelowna, British Columbia/Kelowna Secondary) showed glimpses of brilliance throughout the season. Her most convincing performance came in NU's 93-minute shutout of Iowa.

    Northwestern's efforts become more impressive when considering a pair of starters were lost midseason with torn ACLs. With their return next year and the experience of playing top-notch talent, the Wildcats have reason to be optimistic for McCollum's sophomore campaign.