Tennis: Nick Brookes
Northwestern men’s tennis has undergone a youth movement as of late, with no seniors and four freshmen competing for singles and doubles slots. The young Wildcats desperately needed one of their freshmen to step up to stay competitive following last years’ NCAA tournament loss. Nick Brookes responded by winning every singles match he played without dropping a set over the first four games of the year, including the Wildcats’ matchup against #18 Oklahoma in the International Tennis Federation kickoff. Brookes, from Kent, England, appears to be a pillar the team can build on as they prepare for future success down the line.
Swimming: Calypso Sheridan and Liam Gately
The standout first-year swimmer for both the men’s and women’s team this year has clearly been Calypso Sheridan. No stranger to success back in Australia, Sheridan has been on a tear throughout the season, collecting first-place finishes with remarkable consistency in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke and the 200- and 400-yard individual medley events. She maintains season records for the women’s team in three of these events, as well as an additional record in the 200-yard breaststroke. Her versatility has made her extremely valuable for Northwestern.
On the men’s team, freshman Liam Gately has shined in the freestyle. He has shown proficiency with six combined event wins in the 200- and 500-yard free this season. Additionally, he holds the seasonal records for both events, a feat he accomplished through top-five finishes at the TYR Invitational.
Neither Sheridan nor Gately swam at the Wildcats’ last meet before the Big Ten Championships, and both of their presences were sorely missed. Their accomplishments as first-year students have cemented their season as key athletes for Wildcat swimming and diving, and they will surely be counted on to perform well during this month’s championships.
Basketball: Dererk Pardon
Northwestern men’s basketball doesn’t have much to celebrate this year – after last year’s historic run, it looks like the ‘Cats will be lucky to make the National Invitation Tournament at this point. A lone bright spot is junior center Dererk Pardon, who continues to improve with each year he plays.
Pardon is averaging 11.7 points per game, more than three points higher than last year’s average. He hasn’t sacrificed any efficiency either – his field goal percentage is up a tick from .611 to .633, despite taking almost one and a half more shots per game. He might not have expanded his range to the three-point arc yet (though he took – and missed – his first career three this season!), but an improved midrange jumper and better numbers at the free throw line have allowed him to get some baskets outside of the paint.
Despite being undersized (6’8” in a conference full of NBA-caliber big men), Pardon remains a solid rim protector, averaging almost two blocks per game while leading the team in rebounds.
This season may be a lost cause, but Pardon’s improvement suggests that a bounce-back year for the ‘Cats could be in the cards next year.
Wrestling: Ryan Deakin
One of Northwestern’s best teams has seen a number of young talented players burst on to the scene this year, but it is hard to top what Ryan Deakin has done. Deakin (24-3) has had an incredible year so far as the staple of a strong Northwestern team, with the highlight being his match-winning pin against Minnesota to give the Wildcats their highest ranked win since 2011. The effort has not gone unnoticed because Deakin is ranked fifth in his weight class nationally, with the next freshman not coming until Feb. 15.