Feb. 13, 2008
Northwestern's Kajikawa Classic Game Notes (PDF Format)
The following release is Northwestern's season outlook reprinted with permission from the 2008 media guide. For the Wildcats' specific game notes for this weekend's Kajikawa Classic, click on the .pdf link at the top of this page.
Also note, due to a time zone miscalculation, all of this weekend's start times (listed as Central Time) are shifted up an hour from the originally publicized schedule.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- From year to year, the mission and system behind Northwestern softball stay the same as the results continue to get better and better each season.
Since the Drohan era began in 2002, the Wildcats have grown into one of the nation's best programs, improving their performance each year until they became the first private school in NCAA history to reach back-to-back Women's College World Series semifinals in 2006-07. Now, the goal for Northwestern in 2008 is simple: Win the national championship.
The mission of Northwestern University is to produce leaders in an individual's field of study. The NU softball team has adopted that mission as its own within the sport, and has built a system to that end based on a consistent, year-round work ethic. Having tasted World Series success the past two seasons, NU is even more tuned in as 2008 approaches.
"Our identity always has been associated with work ethic and competitive fire," head coach Kate Drohan says. "What has impressed me most this fall has been our team's work and the fact they have been very focused and very driven. It has been fun to witness our returners teaching our freshmen what it means to `Wear Purple.'"
Seven starters from 2007 return this season, headlined by junior shortstop Tammy Williams (Roscoe, Mo./Osceola). A first-team NFCA All-America selection last year, Williams ranked sixth in the nation in runs scored, led NU with a .425 batting average and set school records with 73 runs, 91 hits and 155 total bases. She enters her junior season with 30 career home runs.
Also back in the infield is the team's lone senior, third baseman Darcy Sengewald (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East). Northwestern's defensive anchor since taking over the starting role midway through her freshman season, Sengewald has worked herself into one of the most clutch performers in the offensive lineup as well, earning a pair of Big Ten Tournament All-Tournament team accolades.
Juniors Erin Dyer (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport) at catcher and Jessica Rigas (River Forest, Ill./Oak Park River Forest) at first base highlight NU's powerfully deep lineup. Dyer launched 11 home runs, driving in 43 in 2007, while Rigas was named second-team All-Big Ten after blasting six homers in conference play and nine overall. Rigas saw most of her time as the designated player last year, but looks to start at first base in 2008.
Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Nicole Pauly (Palatine, Ill./Palatine) is back at second base after tying the team's freshman record with 14 home runs a year ago. Her 62 RBIs out of the cleanup spot in the lineup mark the second-best total in school history.
In the circle, sophomore Lauren Delaney (Jefferson City, Mo./Helias) will build on a 19-2 freshman campaign that netted her NFCA All-Region honors, while sophomore Kelly Dyer's (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport) speed and big-game performances represent the lone returning starter in the outfield.
Northwestern's system is not based solely around its veterans, however, and the Wildcats' returners have instilled their championship experiences into a group of freshmen who, as always, will immediately help NU win games.
Another facet of Northwestern's system is to test itself against the best the nation has to offer from opening day. The Wildcats' 2008 schedule features 23 games against 2007 NCAA Tournament teams, including nine against Super Regional qualifiers. Overall, 78 percent of NU's schedule is against squads that finished in the top 100 in last year's RPI.
Following is a quick hitting, position-by-position breakdown of the 2008 Northwestern Wildcats.
After a year of tutelage under two-time All-American Eileen Canney, Delaney takes the reigns of Northwestern's pitching staff in 2008. Delaney won the first 15 decisions of her career, including two shutouts of No. 6/11 Oregon State, a win over No. 8 Stanford and a victory against a ranked Fresno State squad. This year, she is poised to take her performance to an even higher level alongside fellow hurler, freshman Jessica Smith (Encinitas, Calif./La Costa Canyon).
"Lauren Delaney has set the pace this offseason with her work ethic and her focus," Drohan says. "She has improved her consistency and her ability to move the ball, breaking it on all planes. She and Jessica Smith complement each other very well and will continue our tradition of having a true staff in the circle."
Smith comes to Northwestern after being rated a top-5 pitching prospect by West Coast Softball Report. The coaching staff describes her as the most fundamentally sound pitcher ever to arrive in Evanston.
"Jessica Smith came to Northwestern with great tools, and her work ethic this fall has taken her to the next level," Drohan says. "She will be a force in the Big Ten."
Dyer is back behind the plate after taking over the catcher position full time in 2007. A very active catcher and vocal leader on the field, Dyer gunned down more than a fourth of the runners trying to steal against her last year.
Sophomore Emily Haug (Jefferson City, Mo./Helias), a lefty power hitter, will see significant time on the field after starting a handful of games at designated player last year before an illness knocked her out for a healthy portion of the season.
"Dyer's experience and energy on the field give her the ability to celebrate her teammates and lead the group," Drohan says. "She will be in the heart of our order to utilize her clutch at-bats and RBI power. Emily has made great strides offensively, has a quick release and will see a lot of time on the field. She also gives us a powerful threat from the left side of the plate."
Rigas moves to first base after spending the majority of 2007 as the designated player with a few appearances at third base. In addition to slugging .448 last year, Rigas drew 33 walks to rank fourth on the team with a .397 on-base percentage.
Freshman slugger Michelle Batts (Bloomingdale, Ill./Glenbard North) will work into the lineup while also seeing time as the designated player. Batts set a DuPage County record with 16 home runs as a junior in high school, and finished her prep career with a .453 batting average.
"Rigas is a true believer in our system, and continues to get better every year," Drohan says. "She has done tremendous work in the offseason and her level of fitness has changed her game. Batts has made an immediate impact on our program with her great offensive power and fun personality. She will continue our tradition of left-handed power hitters."
Pauly is another Wildcat who has had a great fall in terms of work and investment, looking to build on a season that earned her NU's third conference Rookie of the Year award in the last four years.
Also at second will be junior Gina Gonzalez (LaVerne, Calif./Bonita), who proved to be a big bat off the bench with a pair of three-run, pinch-hit homers in 2007.
"Pauly continues to get better everyday," Drohan says. "Her greatest contribution has been the ability to embrace the work ahead of her, and the results have been outstanding. Gina is one of our great personalities on the team, and her investment in the program is fantastic. Offensively, she will be a big contributer with her power and quickness."
Sengewald is back for her fourth year at the hot corner, where she has led NU in assists in all three of her previous seasons. Increasing her strength entering the 2008 campaign, Sengewald is poised to do big things both in the field and at the plate in her final season in Purple.
Backing up Sengewald at third is freshman speedster Robin Thompson (Detroit, Mich./Martin Luther King), who hit an astonishing .638 as a junior at Martin Luther King high school in Detroit, Mich., and boasts a team-best 4.7 40 time.
"Darcy is healthy and strong, and continues to anchor an already experienced infield," Drohan says. "I am excited to see her confidence on the field. Robin is the most explosive player on our team. Her speed will change the complexion of the game."
Williams is the nation's best shortstop entering the 2008 season, finishing last year as a finalist for USA Softball's Player of the Year honor as well as earning an invitation to the USA National Team selection camp. Her combination of speed and range in the field along with her ability to drive the ball make her dangerous in all facets of the game.
"Tammy continues to be a true catalyst on the field," Drohan says. "Her fire and the pure enjoyment she has from competing make her an exciting player to watch."
Kelly Dyer is the lone returning starter in a very young outfield corps, but that does not stop Drohan from calling the group "the strongest we have ever had." Joining Dyer are classmates Aly Euler (River Forest, Ill./Oak Park River Forest), Ashley Lafever (Bettendorf, Iowa/Pleasant Valley) and Julia Sears (Chicago, Ill./Marist) along with freshmen Kelly Quinn (Northbrook, Ill./Glenbrook North) and Jordan Wheeler (Garden Grove, Calif./Los Alamitos).
"We are very, very fast, and very smart. We will be looking to use any combination based on the matchup that day or who is hot at the time," Drohan says. "Kelly's speed and power allow her to do some fun things on the field, and Sears is a dynamic player who fits into our system very well. Aly is a smart player who makes great decisions, while Lafever is a competitor who is in the best shape of her career. As a runner, she knows how to find home plate. Quinn is an excellent student of the game with an incredible knack for getting on base, and Wheeler already has terrific game sense at Division I speed. She will make an immediate impact."