After a year of athletic ups and downs, the NBN Sports first-years reflect on why they love Northwestern sports.
The one-hit wonder
By Daniel Hersh
On Jan. 29, the Wildcats traveled to Madison, Wis., to play the No. 14 Badgers in basketball. What happened on the court that day was pure madness. The team defense shut down Wisconsin and redshirt senior Drew Crawford dropped 30 points. The ‘Cats won 65-56.
Less than two months later, that same Wisconsin team was in the Final Four. The basketball fans on campus went nuts after that game. At that point in the season, the 'Cats had hit a huge hot streak and jumped in the Big Ten standings.
When I came to Northwestern, I wasn’t expecting anything special. I had heard of Venric Mark, I knew the lacrosse team was good and I knew the basketball team hadn’t made a NCAA Tournament. But beyond that, I didn’t know a whole lot about NU athletics.
What I found was that yes, Northwestern is good at lacrosse and yes, the university still has a ways to go in football and basketball. But I’m going to always love the Wildcats in any sport because, in almost every sport, the 'Cats find a way to get an incredible signature win.
That win against Wisconsin is the perfect example of a signature win. An underdog in every category, we upset a huge favorite. Even though NU is such a small school playing in a conference full of huge athletic powerhouses, it always seems to pull off one incredible upset per year.
Take last year. Against Michigan State in football, the 'Cats stopped the Spartans on their final drive with four straight pass breakups. The only problem with these two examples: they’ve both been away. Northwestern has been a road warrior in the last few years, the only exception coming in January 2013, when we defeated No. 12 Minnesota at home in basketball.
Next year, Northwestern is going to get its signature win — at some point (fingers crossed) — and it’s due to be at home. In 2011, the football team defeated No. 9 Nebraska in Lincoln. The last big win for the football team that was here in Evanston was in November 2010 against No. 13 Iowa.
That can only mean one thing: NU is due. It’s got to happen at some point, right? The 'Cats are going to get our “one-hit wonder” at home. The football team has a couple of good shots to take on a ranked opponent at home. Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan are all at home, setting the ‘Cats up for a tough schedule but potential for some legendary upsets. The basketball team, too, has tons of chances to take down a Top 25 team.
There are hundreds of other reasons to love NU sports. Northwestern is a powerhouse for lacrosse and women’s tennis, and a rising star in wrestling (also Jason Tsirtsis beat me up and that was tons of fun). But for basketball and football, I hold onto hope for that one signature win. It’s going to happen at some point next season, and I’m pumped for it to happen. We just have to get lucky enough for it to be at home.
Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan. Hopefully that Venric guy I heard of before coming to Northwestern can make some magic happen.
The student-athlete experience
By Ellen Schmitz
Running cross country at Northwestern has got to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and the people here are the biggest reason for that. Northwestern is truly unlike any other school of our size and academic caliber. Athletes here have to be physically and mentally fit. Northwestern athletes are competitive on the field but completely dominate the Big Ten in the classroom, with the best academic ratings in the conference. Academic success doesn’t mean we can’t run with the big cats in the Big Ten. We definitely aren’t winning football or basketball titles left and right, but we do win in some sports that are easy to miss, like Big Tens in women’s tennis and field hockey. Of course, our lacrosse team is a national powerhouse.
I have friends who are athletes at other big Division I schools and they don’t have friends on the football team, hang out with people on the soccer team, study with the golfers, or have dinner with girls on the softball team. Most athletes don’t really know each other or cross team boundaries. Naturally, team bonds are the strongest. After long bus rides together, hours in the weight room and training room, a lot of time in meetings and team dinners, my teammates are still the girls I want to hang out with on a Friday night, and I think that’s great. But Northwestern athletes are friends with so many athletes outside of their teams.
It’s easy to identify an athlete here, just look for a lot of Under Armour and the backpack and you have an instant bond. Those friendships make our school so much stronger, both athletically and academically. It’s so easy for athletes to understand each other, even if we play different sports, to know the pressure of competing in Regionals, to cringe at the early wake up times, and sympathize with the hours of study tables.
When I look around and see other athletes succeeding in both their sport and their studies it makes me try harder, to push myself further. If they can do it, so can I. But I wouldn’t know their stories or their lives if I didn’t know them in the first place. At a lot of state schools you end up on a team with some of your high school competitors, but at Northwestern you meet people from all over. Every person is unique even if they come from the same place, but I’ve met people with amazing stories that I would’ve completely missed if I had stayed in my home state bubble.
While I love Northwestern athletics, there are probably a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t love it. I’ve been up at 6 a.m. because of NU Sports. I’ve biked from McTrib to Ryan Field and back because of NU Sports. I’ve taken a daily dip in an ice bath because of NU Sports. But a couple hundred Northwestern athletes made those sacrifices just like mine, and together we’re all walking away from this year with experiences so much greater than the sacrifices we made. I’ve met my closest friends, traveled across the country, competed at the highest level in my favorite sport, and became a stronger athlete and a better person all because of NU Sports.
The new team
By Andrew Simpson
Basketball is my religion, and Bill Self is my god.
When you grow up 45 minutes from Lawrence, Kan., you grow up a Jayhawk. Your first trip to Allen Fieldhouse is a rite of passage, and you learn to avoid the football season like the plague. It doesn’t matter if you went there for one year or never, you don’t abandon Superman’s favorite school.
I’ve tried to become a fan of a new team before, but it never seems to work out between us. Adopting the Celtics was fun for a year, and I swear I made a serious effort to get into the Spurs, but there was no emotional connection. It was kind of like going on a few dates with a TV-faced robot.
Northwestern is a different kind of relationship. You all convinced me to care during football season, no matter the circumstances and to start loving Fitz. I didn’t care about baseball, field hockey or fencing before I heard people excitedly talk about them in my classes. You guys are teaching me to be a new type of fan: enjoy all of the good, let the bad not matter.
It’s fun not yelling at TV screens, not hating a person because of his assist-to-turnover ratio and not having an entire campus be depressed because of a loss. I’m never sad when that dorky clock tower is purple.
I still bleed crimson and blue, hate Missouri and watch this video whenever I feel homesick. But now, I enjoy sports for sports and not just winning, and I really like it. Thanks Northwestern.
By Jasper Scherer
When the Nebraska Cornhuskers came to Welsh-Ryan Arena to face Northwestern Feb. 8 this season, the atmosphere was noticeably different than that of any other basketball game up to that point.
You couldn’t help but feel the promise in the air. The ‘Cats headed into the matchup with four wins in their last five games, a stretch that included an upset victory over then-No. 14 Wisconsin, and fans showed their appreciation and excitement by heading to the arena in droves to see the team’s first home game in two weeks.
An official attendance of 7,109 nearly filled the stadium’s 8,117-seat capacity that Saturday, and it showed. When JerShon Cobb dribbled the ball up the court during the game’s final minutes, the cheers were deafening. The swaying of the overflowing student section when Nebraska’s Terran Petteway attempted a pair of free throws with the game on the line was a wonderful sight to see. It doesn’t happen exceedingly often, but when Welsh-Ryan Arena — or any Northwestern sports venue — is nearly filled to the brim, the game takes on a whole new meaning, and each point, each goal, each run seems to matter that much more.
Though Northwestern lost the close game by a score of 53-49, the incredible atmosphere and the visibly disappointed faces of fans as they filed out of the arena showed that NU students really, truly care about their school’s sports. Though the attendance record doesn’t always necessarily reflect as much, and while other Big Ten schools might have better showings at home games, it makes it all the more special when the fans do come out to show support. There’s no understating the impact of a packed crowd on the game’s outcome either. As a high school student-athlete, I can appreciate the value of playing in front of a full crowd. Knowing that there are fans out there who care, who love your team—that gives you something to play for, and for those fans to actually make an appearance at games makes each matchup take on a whole new meaning. The difference between 7,000 and 700 fans is more than noticeable. It’s a game-changer, and it makes everything more enjoyable — for the players, the fans and…well, maybe not for the visiting team.
The Nebraska basketball game was just one memorable instance of a dynamic atmosphere at a Northwestern sports game this past season. The Oct. 5 football matchup against Ohio State comes to mind, as does the lacrosse team’s nail-biting loss to Florida in the penultimate game of the regular season. Take your pick, but when the stands are packed, there are few better places to be around campus than at a Northwestern sporting event.
To check in on last year's freshmen and what they love about Northwestern sports, click here.