Rarely do I like to give Wildcat of the Week to the same player two weeks in a row. We have to spread the love around.
Venric Mark though deserves this back-to-back Wildcat of the Week award. He left Northwestern fans awestruck at his running ability and will. We will hear it every game the rest of this year, but Mark is the smallest player by height on the roster. He does not run like it though. He darts and dashes up the gut and gets yards. He fights for yards and picks them up.
Somehow, I do not feel like this is hyperbole.
Mark followed up an impressive performance at Syracuse with 123 rushing yards on 24 carries. It really has been a long time since we could say Northwestern can consistently rely on the run. Mark was Northwestern’s best offensive option all night, believe it or not. There will be more on Mark and his play early this season later on in the week.
What he did though Saturday was instill a ton of confidence into a team that was struggling and keep things going offensively. Eventually the dam burst in the fourth quarter. On that first play from scrimmage in the final frame, Mark caught a pass in the flat and scampered toward the end zone in an 86-yard run that was breathtaking (even if the referees determined correctly he had stepped out of bounds).
Like the punt return last week and everything else Mark contributed, this run and all the other runs set the tone for the game. What impressed most was not even the long runs and the jukes, it was the willingness to take tacklers on, fall forward and grind for the tough yards. Mark looks like a pretty complete back through two games.
This is no time to rest on his laurels though. Because, frankly, you do not get laurels for two games.
Well, you do get two Wildcat of the Week awards if you play this well.
Tara Puffenberger, Lisa McCarthy, Chelsea Armstrong, Field Hockey: It is too hard to differentiate between these three players, so they all get recognized. Puffenberger, McCarthy and Armstrong each had a goal and an assist in No. 11 Northwestern’s 4-2 road win over No. 9 Duke last week. Last year, it seemed like Armstrong was carrying all of the scoring load for the Wildcats. She had 25 of Northwestern’s 56 goals. This year, there is a whole lot more balance and more scoring options. Armstrong still is the team’s top goal scorer with seven of NU’s 23 goals so far. But Puffenberger is keeping pace with six of her own. McCarthy’s goal against Duke was her first of the season.
Chris Ritter, Men’s Soccer: Ritter was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after winning the MVP at the NIU adidas Invite, a tournament which Northwestern won as well. Ritter recorded the game-winning goal three minutes into overtime against Drake. He added two assists in the win over Rhode Island on Sunday to keep Northwestern as the only unbeaten team remaining in the Big Ten. Ritter’s two assists in the 3-2 win helped freshman Joey Calistri score his second and third goals of his career. Ritter and Calistri lead the team in points with six apiece. Ritter has two goals and two assists this season.
Madalyn Shalter, Volleyball: Outside hitters get all the glory. So here is some love for Big Ten Setter of the Week Madalyn Shalter. Shalter averaged 12.64 assists per set in Northwestern’s three wins at the Yale Classic. The team’s victory there marked the third straight tournament victory in as many weeks and kept Northwestern undefeated on the season. Shalter turned in a near-career performance Saturday against Yale. She handed out 54 assists in the 3-1 victory for the Wildcats and added 16 kills and five kills. To be sure, the fifth-year senior will be integral for Northwestern moving forward.