This school year was supposed to be a successful one for Northwestern’s highest-earning sport. Fitz’s squad, coming off its first bowl win in 64 years, was expected to contend for the Big Ten title but instead suffered one heartbreaking loss after another. While football may not have fared well, all is not lost. Many Northwestern teams still know how to compete—and the results show. These four teams will cheer you up, even as you sulk over the fact that Kain Colter isn’t returning next year.
Men's club fencing
Nothing says dominance more than national championships, and the Northwestern men’s fencing team has four club titles, more than any other squad in the country.
“There’s kind of the whole thing where ‘success breeds success,’” says men’s fencing president and Weinberg senior Maciek Zmyslowski. “So because we’re good, other good people will come, but that’s only half the story. It’s probably really the coaches.”
Technically, the men’s fencing team doesn’t have a head coach, but that hasn’t stopped Laurie Schiller from unofficially taking on the role. Schiller, head coach of the Northwestern women’s varsity fencing team, claims the second-most wins of any coach in the sport.
Zmyslowski says Schiller treats them like a varsity team, but being at the club level means they don’t have to deal with “stupid” NCAA regulations.
“It’s possibly the best setup that could exist,” Zmyslowski says.
The men’s fencing team competes in the Midwestern Fencing Conference, which has about 20 teams split almost evenly between varsity and club schools. Year after year, NU finds itself finishing around third place, behind varsity powerhouses Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Their winning record has earned respect from varsity programs across the country. Zmyslowski says when teams like OSU compete against ordinary club schools, they send their substitutes. But against NU, they don’t mess around.
While the club team as a whole hasn’t won a national title since 2011, the épée squad has won the club championships the past two years. Zmyslowski, who’s also the captain of the épée squad, plans on extending that streak.
“Winning national championships [for the épée squad] is not even like a goal,” he says. “It’s kind of a given. Something we expect to do.”
At 6 a.m., most students are in the middle of their fourth or fifth hour of sleep. For the rowing team, that’s when they arrive at practice.
Weinberg junior Caleigh Hernandez, president of Northwestern’s co-ed club rowing team, describes the start time as “definitely a struggle.”
The hard work has paid off. Last year at the Dad Vail Regatta, the largest collegiate spring regatta in the country, the women’s team placed fourth out of 36 and was the only club team to advance to the finals. That same season, the lightweight men’s team placed second in their division at the regatta in Chattanooga, Tenn. They are often referred to as the “Head of the Hooch.”
These wins are no small feat: The two squads compete against Division I teams, which enjoy official school funding and smoother recruiting processes, but club teams fundraise independently for coaching, equipment and travel. They also don’t receive the scholarships that varsity athletes do.
Despite the daily grind, the squad still knows how to have some fun. They even have a few sacred traditions.
“If you win a competition you have to throw the coxswain (the person who steers the boat and yells commands to the other rowers) into the water,” Hernandez says.
Northwestern’s ski team outshines its competition in the Chicago division of the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA). Its skiers and boarders regularly finish in the top two of their respective runs.
Four years ago, this would have seemed impossible.
“When I was a freshman, we had maybe three people total that had raced before,” says ski team captain and McCormick senior Theresa Nave.
Rigorous training has brought greater success to the team in the past couple of years. The team holds land training twice a week in the fall in order to get in shape and to get the freshmen acclimated with the rest of the squad.
Publicity has also helped ski team up its game.
“The ski team has become a lot more publicized and we’ve done a lot better job of advertising for recruiting,” Nave says.
One specific individual who helped bring the team into the spotlight was snowboarder and Weinberg senior Anne Benda, who has competed in the last three USCSA Nationals.
Last year, Benda was the only one from the team to make it to Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho. From Evanston, her teammates didn’t miss a second, tracking Benda’s runs in live time.
After the first run she placed third, but after a critical fall on the next run, she finished twentieth overall. Nonetheless, it was a moment that her teammates will never forget.
Anyone who follows college debate in the U.S. could tell you that the Northwestern debate team is one of the best. But Rahim Shakoor, a Weinberg sophomore on the squad, sees things a bit differently than the average fan.
“We’ve kind of had the ‘curse of Northwestern’ over the last few years,” Shakoor says. “We’ve gone to finals of the National Debate Tournament four years in a row and only won once [in 2011].”
Before the seniors compete, Shakoor and his teammates stay up until at least 3 a.m. doing research in preparation, but it’s not all heavy reading.
“A large portion of debate is watching video of the other team,” Shakoor says. This helps them understand what to expect out of their opponent.
Despite the tremendous amount of skill and practice involved, Shakoor doesn’t consider debate to be a sport, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to experience the same spirit of competition.