#34 Northwestern Softball 2016 Preview

Northwestern Wildcats
Overall Rank: #34
Conference Rank: #4 Big Ten
Northwestern Logo

The Wildcats are coming off of their third trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years after finishing 28-23 and bowing out of the South Bend Regional. Seventeen letterwinners, including six starters, return to a team that boasts 11 upperclassmen. Experience will be key for the Wildcats, especially when they get into Big Ten play against teams like Nebraska and Michigan.
2015: 28-23, 14-8
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Kate Drohan
Field Players:
Northwestern brings back three of its top four hitters, including bopper Andrea Filler. Last season, Filler led the team in average (.395), doubles (14), home runs (12) and RBI (60). Sabrina Rabin, the leadoff hitter, was right behind her in average, hitting .394, while scoring 50 times, knocking out 69 hits and stealing 28 bases, all of which were tops on the team. Amy Letourneau hit .360 with nine doubles and seven home runs. Someone will have to step up to replace the loss off Andrea DiPrima, who hit 10 home runs, 10 doubles, with 61 hits and 47 RBI. After missing the first month of the season due to injury, rising sophomore Sammy Nettling settled in nicely at the catcher's spot, starting 30 of the 31 games she played in, hitting six home runs and driving in 25 runs. A full season of Nettling could help ease the loss of DiPrima.
Northwestern brings back its top two pitchers, Kristen Wood and Letourneau. Last season Wood went 16-11, striking out 229 and combining for six shutouts. Letourneau split her time between first base and the circle, going 11-10 in 27 appearances, 16 of which were starts. The rotation will be bolstered by the return of Nicole Bond, who missed all of last season due to injury. Two years ago, Bond went 7-0 in 19 appearances, 11 of which were starts. Two other pitchers are on the roster, but unless there's an injury or one is very impressive, the Wildcats probably won't need to use the incoming freshmen much.
Who to Watch:
Nettling and Brianna LeBeau. Nettling was impressive in the 31 games she played in and put up stats that rivaled some of the everyday players, so it will be interesting to see how she does in a full season of play. LeBeau struggled last season after a breakout sophomore campaign in 2014. She put up a .379 average, 55 hits, 11 home runs and 43 RBI that season. She's shown she's capable of those numbers before, so if she can come close to them in her final campaign, it'll be a good season for the Wildcats.
Final Projection:
Northwestern will compete for one of the top four spots in the Big Ten and will do so behind a veteran cast. Having a rotation made up of upperclassmen will be key for Northwestern, which starts the season with games against Tennessee and Oregon in its first weekend. Other big nonconference games include matchups with Georgia, UCLA, Arizona State and USF. The Wildcats will know where they stand in the Big Ten right away, as their first two series are against Michigan and Minnesota. Can Rabin repeat a season that saw her win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award? Can Filler keep up her powerful ways? If so, it could be a happy season in Evanston.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Sabrina Rabin, OF, 175
Hits: Sabrina Rabin, OF, 69
Home Runs: Andrea Filler, IF, 12
RBIs: Andrea Filler, IF, 60
Runs: Sabrina Rabin, OF, 50
Stolen Bases: Sabrina Rabin, OF, 28
Wins: Kristen Wood, P, 16
Innings Pitched: Kristen Wood, P, 190.2
Strikeouts: Kristen Wood, P, 229
Complete Games: Kristen Wood, P, 19