It's a great time to be a women's sports fan in Chicago. There's a lot going on right now.
The Chicago Sky tips off its seventh season Saturday night in Washington against the Mystics (6 p.m., CN100), while several local college teams are fighting for their lives in postseason tournament play.
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Having made what most WNBA general managers voted as the most dynamic moves during the off-season, the Sky has high hopes for the summer. The franchise has never qualified for the postseason in its previous six years but now has two Olympians on the roster after veteran small forward Swin Cash was brought here to take some pressure off Sylvia Fowles -- widely regarded as the best center in the world.
The Sky will play its home opener Friday at Allstate Arena against former Stevenson star Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever.
Meanwhile, the Northwestern lacrosse team, which has won six national titles in the last seven years, is inching toward familiar territory. With a win over Duke on Saturday night (7 p.m.) at Lakeside Field in Evanston, the defending national champion Wildcats will qualify for their eighth straight Final Four. The Wildcats boast a tournament winning percentage of .810, the best of any Division I school in history.
In softball, Northwestern and DePaul -- two programs that know how to get hot at the right time -- began their their tournament runs Friday.
The Wildcats, who drew Texas in the first round, have qualified for eight NCAA tournament fields, won four regionals and advanced to the semifinals of two Women's College World Series in the last 10 years.
With just one senior starter regularly on the field, Northwestern's younger players have been counted on heavily. Former Antioch standout Olivia Duehr, Amy Letourneau and Anna Edwards earned all-Big Ten freshmen of the week honors this season. Freshman Andrea DiPrima of Buffalo Grove also saw significant playing time.
DePaul boasts similarly impressive credentials under longtime coach Eugene Lenti.
The Blue Demons, who opened with Massachusetts, have been to 15 of the last 16 NCAA tournaments and have advanced to four Women's College World Series in the last 12 years.
Sophomore pitcher Kirsten Verdun, a two-time all-region first-teamer and last year's Big East Freshman of the Year, has started 19 straight games for DePaul. She has 247 strikeouts in 250 innings and owns an impressive 1.65 ERA.
Best of the best:
Northwestern again has a finalist up for the prestigious Tewaaraton Award, presented annually to the most outstanding performer in men's and women's lacrosse.
Junior defender Taylor Thornton, who was just named named the American Lacrosse Conference player of the year, is NU's representative this year. With a win, she would join a long list of winners from Northwestern.
Thornton, one of five finalists, will be in Washington later this month for the announcement of the winner.
Last year, NU midfielder Shannon Smith won the Tewaaraton, giving the Wildcats the winner for the fifth time in the last six years.
Hannah Nielsen and Kristen Kjellman of Northwestern each won the award twice over four consecutive years (from 2006-09).
Tennis out, but still in:
For the second straight year, the Northwestern tennis team was eliminated by Stanford in the third round of the team NCAA Tournament.
But three Wildcats will need to quickly put aside that disappointment because next week they'll be back at the NCAA championships to compete in singles and doubles.
Kate Turvy will be one of 64 players in the singles field, while Nida Hamilton of Hinsdale Central and Linda Abu Mushrefova will team up as one of 32 doubles entries Both tourneys start Wednesday in Athens, Ga.
• Patricia Babcock McGraw has covered the Chicago Sky for the Daily Herald since its inaugural season in 2006. She is also the color analyst for all Sky television games, which are broadcast on CN100.