Injury derails softball standout Ariola during freshman season at Northwestern
It was a bit of a tough year for Northwestern University softball standout Renee Ariola.
The Bloomington native and former All-Conference star at Normal Community High School came into the season hoping to see some time in the outfield for the Wildcats before being derailed by injury.
According to Doug Meffley, the director of digital and social communications at Northwestern, the sophomore never could quite get into a groove because of that injury and, as a result, saw little field time this year.
"Renee played one game as a freshman and got one at bat," Meffley told the West Central Reporter, "but she was injured most of this year. She dressed for a little while, but we didn't end up using her. And then towards the end of the year, she was unavailable again."
Fortunately, the Wildcats were able to find an alternative role for Ariola, and it was duties she took to very well. Northwestern values an extremely tight locker room where even those not playing have options to contribute to the team's success. It was there where she was able to shine despite her injury.
"Our team has a huge emphasis on the dugout and what they're doing to help the players on the field," Meffley said. "They're doing a ton of scouting and a ton of in-game adjusting. She's done a great job of embracing that role as she's been unable to be on the field."
The Wildcats finished 27-28 this year, disappointing for a team that's won seven Big Ten titles and made five appearances in the Women's College World Series over the years, but health played a part in Northwestern finishing just a hair under the .500 mark. In addition to Ariola, the team was down one of its top pitchers as well.
"We had a senior Kristen Wood who missed a month with an emergency, she had to have her gall bladder removed, so we kind of struggled with pitching there for a little while."
Next season, the Wildcats plan on being right back in the thick of things. And there will be plenty of opportunity available for the younger players to step up and make an impact as Northwestern loses a group of seniors that were a major part of this past season's squad.
"We're losing seven seniors," Meffley said. "The vast majority of them were everyday players for us, so we'll need some folks to step up. There's a lot of players who got really good experience for us this year, so we expect them to take the next step next year for sure."
Meffley expects Ariola will be one of those players with a chance to earn some serious time as the Wildcats head into a pivotal next season.
"She'll certainly compete for some time in the outfield next year depending on how the personnel shakes out, but to this point her role has been as important as any in the dugout, and she's done a great job," he said.