Dec. 9, 2005
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's 2005 season was chock full of milestones, accomplishments, stellar individual efforts and incredible team play. In the end, the Wildcats produced their third NCAA Tournament bid in the last four seasons under head coach Keylor Chan and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the national scene.
With their most wins since 1988, their best winning percentage since 1987 and their first NCAA Tournament victory in program history, the Wildcats have officially come a long way from the four-win squad Chan inherited in 2000.
Northwestern concluded its season with a 20-12 overall record, marking the first 20-win campaign in program history since the 1988 team went 20-14. The 'Cats' .625 winning percentage is the best since 1987's squad won at a .697 clip.
All of that winning earned Northwestern the second seed at the South Bend, Ind., sub-regional of the NCAA Tournament, where the Wildcats faced off against perennial power Texas A&M in the first round.
Entering the match, the Aggies had qualified for the Tournament 13-consecutive times and had won their first-round match in every one of those appearances. The Wildcats had never won an NCAA Tournament match in their history.
So with history firmly NOT on its side, Northwestern put together the fourth-best blocking night in school history to come back from a 2-1 deficit and defeat A&M, 3-2. Led by a season-best 10 blocks by sophomore Brittney Aldridge (Hampshire, Ill./Hampshire) and a career-best eight blocks by classmate Lindsay Anderson (Wilmette, Ill./New Trier), the Wildcats had 30 block assists in the win.
Sophomore Courtnie Paulus (Belgium, Wis./Ozaukee) had a double-double in the match with a season-best 18 kills, while junior Julie Purcell (Louisville, Ky./Assumption) tied her season-high with 17 kills. Freshman Chelsy Hyser (Belvidere, Ill./Belvidere) hit a match-best .500 (13-2-22) for the 'Cats.
Making the win even more special for Chan, the performance gave NU's mentor the 100th victory of his career.
After NU put together a group of season- and career- best nights to defeat A&M, the Wildcats fought tooth and nail with their hosts, No. 6-seeded Notre Dame, in the second round. The Irish prevailed in three games, but by just a combined seven points in an impressive showing from the 'Cats.
Northwestern began its run to the NCAA second round way back in August, winning its home opener against UW-Green Bay before capturing two of the three preseason tournaments the Wildcats participated in.
First, Northwestern traveled to Tucson, Ariz., to play in the Four Points Sheraton Wildcat Classic, hosted by Arizona. The Wildcats defeated Winthrop and then-No. 20 Georgia Tech in the event -- both teams which won their conferences in 2004 with undefeated records.
Northwestern fell to the host Wildcats, a team which has spent much of the year in the top 10, to take second in the tournament. Purcell was named to the all-tournament team in an NU performance that impressed enough voters that the 'Cats appeared in the receiving votes section the CSTV/AVCA Coaches Poll that week.
Northwestern then returned to Chicago and won its next six matches, capturing the championships at the Chicagoland Classic and at its own Wildcat Classic. Senior Christie Gardner (West Bend, Wis./West Bend East) was the MVP of the Chicagoland Classic and earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for her effort. Anderson was the MVP at the Wildcat Classic.
Northwestern's opening win against Loyola (Ill.) at the Chicagoland Classic was the 500th in program history. The Wildcats closed 2005 with an above .500 all-time record of 516-505-5.
Against Brown in the Wildcat Classic, Anderson served a career-best seven aces, but even more impressively, she at one time served 13-consecutive points -- the fifth-best streak in NCAA history.
Performances like those led to Northwestern's 9-1 start, its best since 1987.
The Wildcats then jumped headlong into the rough-and-tumble Big Ten schedule, and had a tough go of things early on. Northwestern went 3-7 in its first trip through the slate, falling to 12-8 on the year.
The Wildcats began the final ten matches of the season needing a finish as strong as their start. Despite losing the next two matches on the road at No. 18 Ohio State and No. 3 Penn State to drop to 12-10, Northwestern showed signs of very strong play, especially against the Nittany Lions.
Not coincidentally, against the Nittany Lions also is where Gardner began to re-write Northwestern's dig record book. She became the Wildcats' career leader in digs in that match, then kicked off a six-match Big Ten winning streak -- NU's best since 1983 -- with a then-single-match record 36 digs in a 3-2 win over No. 15 Purdue.
The match against Purdue was the first time in 12 years the Wildcats came back from down 0-2 in a match to win, and it marked the watershed moment in the 2005 season.
Gardner and Anderson swept the Big Ten Player of the Week honors after the Purdue weekend, then helped NU to three-consecutive sweeps of weekend matches to launch Northwestern into sixth-place in the Big Ten.
Along the way, Gardner again broke the single-match dig record with 37 in an upset at No. 17 Minnesota and broke her own NU single-season record when she recorded her 464th dig of the year the very next night at Iowa.
Again, Gardner was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for her record-breaking performances.
The Wildcats closed the regular season with a 3-1 win at Indiana, completing a 7-3 record in the final 10 matches to finish with a 10-10 mark in the Big Ten and lock up NU's at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Gardner earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors for her record-rewriting performances on the year.
Other Wildcats also inked their name to the Northwestern record book during the 2005 season. Most notably, senior Lizzie Carlson (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto) placed herself ninth on the Wildcats' career digs list with 1,083.
Aldridge currently also resides on the career records page, sitting second on NU's career hitting percentage list after two seasons with a .274 average. Aldridge, junior transfer Cassie McLaughlin (Cary, Ill./Cary Grove) and Hyser all found places on the single-season hitting percentage list. McLaughlin hit a .305 on the year, while Aldridge finished with a .297 average and Hyser hit .284 in her freshman campaign.
Anderson's 3.70 kills per game rank as the seventh-best season in NU history, while Aldridge's 127 block assists place her in sixth on that single-season list. As a team, Northwestern turned in the third-best block assist (430) and total block (292) totals in program history.
Taking over the setter position after the graduation of career-assist leader Drew Robertson, junior Lauren Greenwood (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood) and sophomore Stephanie Jurivich (LaGrange, Ill./St. Ignatius) both established career highs in assists while tag-teaming the position.
Academic honors also grew out of NU's successful 2005 season, with Jurivich earning ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District V honors as voted by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
Seven Wildcats earned Academic All-Big Ten accolades: sophomore Stefanie Alde (Libertyville, Ill./Libertyville), Anderson, Carlson, Greenwood, Jurivich, Purcell and sophomore Cally Stolbach (Tampa, Fla./Berkeley Prep).
All of the individual honors and awards combined to establish Northwestern as a player on the national scene in 2005. What records will be broken in 2006?