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Big Ten preview: Northwestern looks more after WCWS run

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2022 has been a dream season for Northwestern softball, and the Wildcats may not be waking up anytime soon.

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In the running to the Women’s College World Series, Northwestern prepares for 2023 as the only Big Ten Conference ranked in the preseason D1Softball.com Top 25. The Wildcats check it out at #7 after running back for battery from All-American pitcher Danielle Williams and U.S. National Softball Defensive Player of the Year catcher Jordyn Rudd, both of whom are ranked in the D1Softball pre-season roster Among the top 100 players in the country.

Northwestern is bringing back a lot more from last season’s roster heading to Oklahoma City. Outfielder Skyler Shellmyer, first baseman Nikki Cuchran, and second baseman Grace Nieto hit . 324 or better in 2022, joining Rudd to give the Wildcats some of the most successful runs of any lineup in the country.

Meanwhile, Williams graduated winning an astonishing 31 decisions with 26 complete games in 251 innings pitched, compiling a 2.09 ERA with 333 strikeouts and striking out against a 0.95 average. She was a circuit worker, leading the Wildcats to WCWS.

As Northwestern embarks on a freshman season to win the Big Ten, the conference has plenty of interesting storylines β€” and potential Wildcats contenders for the league championship.

Michigan moves without a legend

Michigan reached the NCAA Tournament a season early, making it a remarkable 29 years for coach Carol Hutchins’ standard-setting career. The best coach in the history of the game She announced her retirement in the summer, handing the reins of Mays & Blue over to Bonnie Thule.

Tholl has worked at Hutchins’ right hand for three decades, so it should be a smooth transition in the dugout. On the field, Michigan returns All-Big Ten campaign Audrey LeClair and standout freshman Ellie Sieler.

The Wolverines lost a strong team of seniors from the ’22 roster, but the 2023 team has plenty of opportunities to test itself against quality competition before conference play. Michigan heads to the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational to take on UFC, Louisiana and WCWS qualifiers Oklahoma State, Mississippi State and Duke. This is after the season-opening trip for the Spring Games.

Will the Big Ten go down to NU vs. NU?

Nebraska’s total of 41 wins was second last season in the Big Ten, and the Cornhuskers finished just a game and a half behind Northwestern at the top of the standings. Mia Fielder returns after hitting a team-best . 373 with 37 RBI a season ago.

Breakthrough sophomores Billy Andrews, Sydney Gray, and Abe Squire become junior leaders in a talented squad that may once again prove to be the team in the primary purple-and-white competition for the Big Ten Championship. Andrews hit 20 home runs in 22 years, while Squire hit . 364 rank. Gray batted . 313 and her 11 home runs were second on the team.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Nebraska and Northwestern meet in the last weekend of April in the penultimate series of the regular season. Nebraska has a lot to prove before then, of course, starting with the Clearwater Invitational and competing against Oklahoma State, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Minnesota and Wisconsin are dangerous dark horses

Minnesota and Wisconsin both posted late season results that cemented their spots in the NCAA Tournament β€” and in the case of the Golden Gophers, it was likely the difference between making the field and not. Either way, their victories foreshadowed the potential they each bring in 2023.

Minnesota beat Big Ten champion Northwestern 2-1 in the May series, both times by scores of 8-0. Natalie DenHartog’s combination of on-board contact and speed on the baseline lanes can cause any opponent a headache, while Kayla Chavez shines as one of the Big Ten’s best defensive players.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin ended Minnesota’s survival in Big Ten competition early on with a 2-0 win. Elimination of the Golden Gopher’s talented offense pulled the Badgers out of their late-stage funk, while also showcasing dominant pitcher Maddie Schwartz who can let loose.

130 last season and finished with a 2.50 ERA in 41 games. She’s poised to once again be one of the best shooters in the Big Ten – and possibly the country. She hit eight goals during her NCAA tournament appearances, including the Badgers’ wins over Canisius and Georgia Tech.

Illinois is built to compete

Illinois’ 34-win and third-place conference finish ended the 2022 campaign in disappointing NCAA Regionals. However, the Fighting Illini reloads most of its roster in tact. First Team All-Big Ten honoree Avrey Steiner leads the pack of veteran standouts up and down the lineup, along with second team All-Big Ten selections Kylie Powell at first base and pitcher Sidney Sickles.

311 batting average and a team best among freshmen. 422 percentage. Davis, Powell, Steiner, and Megan Ward all hit . 309 or better, Steiner’s . 391 average among the best in the conference.

A group of first-year playmakers made their breakthrough last year, with Paige Berkmeyer, Lauren Wiles, and Stevie Meade taking All-Freshman honors.

Keep an eye on Bassett and Sand

The All-American watch is available in Indiana Cora Bassett and Kylie Sand by Rutgers. Bassett came to Indiana from in-state rival Purdue and immediately proved to be the best hitter in the Hoosiers lineup.

Bassett combines power at the plate with speed on the base tracks, which has translated into a program record 19 doubles. She also pulled out 16 bases, taking advantage of her ability to get on board with a whopping . 400 batting average. Few in the Big Ten have come close to Bassett’s dish’s consistency; Sand was among those who did.

Sand hit . 398 in her stellar sophomore campaign, hit 33 walks and proved dangerous while on board with 23 steals. It’s chasing a fast one, too.

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