NIU softball team, players receive postseason honors

By Dan Moran

At a time when most of the NIU community fled DeKalb for the summer, the Huskie softball team could be found mopping up a season and collecting a few rewards.

After finishing the regular season against Iowa by dropping a doubleheader in Iowa City, the Huskies discovered their 22-23 record had earned them a berth in the National Invitational Championship softball tournament in Macomb, Ill.

The team also began gathering a batch of individual honors. Huskie star Jill Justin, after breaking eight school offensive records in 1987, became NIU’s first softball All-American May 20.

Justin previously had joined teammates Amy Veld and Sue Kause on the All-Midwest team May 14. Veld, Kause and Beth Schrader rounded out the Huskies’ postseason feast by garnering Academic All-America honors May 28.

But first came NIU’s appearance in the NIC tourney, a first-year competition Huskie Coach Dee Abrahamson compared to college basketball’s National Invitational Tournament.

“We—meaning softball coaches and assistants—have been trying for a couple of years to allow more teams into the NCAA tournament because they only take the top 16 teams,” Abrahamson said. “This tournament is similar to the NIT in basketball. It’s the 16 best teams who weren’t invited to the NCAA’s.”

The tournament, held May 15-17 and hosted by Western Illinois, featured “a lot of teams finishing second and third in their conference,” Abrahamson said. The independent Huskies, who earned their invitation on the strength of their schedule, made a respectable showing in the double-elimination tournament.

“It was a lot of fun. We didn’t have a chance to practice before, but we went down and we felt pretty comfortable,” she said. “We went out and won the first game. Everyone who goes to a national tournament for the first time wants to win the first game.”

The Huskies beat Southwestern Louisiana, 31-16 in the regular season, to open play. NIU played three games the following day, losing to Iowa State to move to the losers’ bracket, then beating Oklahoma 1-0 to continue play before bowing out to Illinois State 3-0.

The 2-2 record placed the Huskies seventh in the 16-team field, which included teams with names like Iowa, North Carolina and Princeton.

Justin’s performance in the tourney—5-for-11 (.455) with a double—won her a spot on the all-tournament team and set her up for her All-America selection.

Abrahamson called Justin “probably the hardest worker on the team. Any time we set up the cage and ask, ‘Who wants to hit?,’ she’s right there. She’s always begging her teammates to work with her. When she gets up to that plate, she’s real determined. She’s gonna hit that ball.”

The 1987 season saw Justin, a sophomore centerfielder from Oak Lawn, Ill., led her squad in every offensive category except at-bats. She established new records in hits, batting average, doubles, runs scored, and RBI.

In reference to Justin, Veld and Kause making the All-Midwest team, Abrahamson was quick to point out the total was “three out of our starting eight—and they’ll all be back next year.”