There is definitely something about the state of Wisconsin that students from the West Coast find so appealing. There has to be, because no less than seven out of the 16 members of UW's softball team are from the Golden State.
So what draws these Californians to the Badger state? Could it be the comparable dairy production of the two regions each year? Unlikely. Or is it the familiar, mild, Mediterranean climate that reminds them of home? Probably not. Maybe it's the early-stage frostbite that can be experienced walking to class throughout the winter that makes Wisconsin so inviting.
In any case, the recruiting pipeline that UW seems to have into California softball is paying dividends, in no way more so than in junior catcher Joey Daniels.
Daniels, who hails from Oakley, Calif., was a third-team All-Big Ten selection last year, and along with outfielder Sam Polito, was named Wisconsin's Co-Offensive Player of the Year after hitting .322 with 23 RBI.
"Joey is the heartbeat of the team," assistant coach Barbara Sherwood said. "She's the field general, and she brings so much heart to the game."
Daniels is hitting .240 on the year, but if history is any indication, it won't stay under .300 for long. Last year, when the temperature outside started warming up, Daniels' bat followed suit. She had an eight-game hitting streak from April 10-23 and amassed 14 hits in the team's final 14 games.
"She brings a steady bat, and she brings defense," Sherwood added. "She's just an all-around good player for us."
The Badgers went 3-2 at last week's UTEP Invitational in El Paso, Texas, and besides the hitting clinic that was put on by junior outfielder Katie Hnatyk (11-for-14, 4 HR), the other bright spot was Daniels going yard in back-to-back games against Northern Colorado and Buffalo.
"We had a winning record," Daniels said of the weekend, "but it wasn't our best weekend. We can do better, and we will."
After weeks of practicing indoors, getting back on the dirt has been a welcome change, as UW stands with a record of 6-4 so far this season playing last week in Texas and before that in Arizona.
Position players often experience a difficult transition each spring, going from picking up balls against a white ceiling to finding them in the sun, but Daniels says the transition for catchers is decidedly easier.
"I don't think it's as hard [to adapt] for me as it is for the infield and outfield," Daniels said, "but it's an adjustment for everybody."
Daniels has certainly had to make her fair share of adjustments during her career at UW. She has progressed from the inexperienced freshman catcher who split time at third base to the stalwart rock that can always be counted on to dictate the pace of the game from behind the plate.
"I've definitely improved the most at blocking [pitches in the dirt]," Daniels said. "Coach Sherwood has helped me out a lot."
Along with blocking, Daniels' other defensive totals continue to rise. As a freshman, Daniels managed to throw out only two base runners. As a sophomore last spring, she gunned down 16 of them.
With so many softball players from the same part of the country, this crop of Badgers has a kind of camaraderie that is not often seen at a Division I level, and that isn't lost on Daniels.
"The majority of us have been together for a while," Daniels said. "This team has really grown together."
So what does Daniels think it is about Wisconsin that is so welcoming?
"I don't know," Daniels said. "The campus is just really nice, and the people here are nice — it's just a different atmosphere."