Four years ago, I began writing rather meaningless stories for The Badger Herald at an R.L. Stine level. A lot has changed since then. It's been a truly enjoyable ride covering the view of press row from the Field House, Camp Randall, the Kohl Center and almost every imaginable destination on the road, from Philadelphia to South Padre Island, Texas. Still, there's always room for improvement, and such is the case with Wisconsin athletics. UW sports had a great year — four sports (football, women's hockey and both basketball teams) set school records for most wins, and the Badgers brought home two national titles (men's indoor track and women's hockey — for the second consecutive season nonetheless). Yet, there are plenty of aspects UW could work on in the near future… UW football: Hire a special teams coach In winning a school record of 12 games last season, Wisconsin had a complete football team — the Badgers' rock-solid defense was complimented by a steady offense. But there was one area in which UW dropped the ball, literally: special teams. Save for kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, Wisconsin's special teams could've used much improvement. After being a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2005, punter Ken DeBauche's productivity dropped off a bit in '06. DeBauche wasn't bad by any means, but he certainly didn't live up to his preseason billing as one of the best punters in the nation. Yet, DeBauche had little to do with Wisconsin's special teams woes. The Badgers' kickoff and punt coverage was less than stellar, and their return game was just downright atrocious. After Jarvis Minton returned Wisconsin's first kickoff for 23 yards, the Badgers didn't have another 20-yard return until five games later against Indiana. That kickoff was returned 20 yards by Josh Nettles, who then fumbled, allowing Hoosiers special teams player Troy Grosfield to recover the ball for a touchdown. While Minton came around by midseason and turned into a reliable return man, the punt return game was the real problem. Fumble after fumble, Zach Hampton proved he didn't belong as a punt returner. Yet, he was never yanked from his position. The reason? Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema does not have a special teams coach on staff. Instead, the Badgers' staff coaches the special teams by committee each week. It's just so painfully obvious Wisconsin needs someone to head the special teams department and tweak the minor problems that snowballed last season. Hey, maybe Joe Stellmacher would be up for the job after deciding against pursuing a pro-football career. Hold Lisa Stone accountable Stone, Wisconsin's women's basketball head coach, recently received a contract renewal and one-year extension, meaning her contract will run through 2011. Now I'm not condemning the job Stone did this past season because the UW women's basketball team had a pretty solid year. The Badgers finished with a 23-13 overall record (7-9 Big Ten) after making a run to the WNIT championship game. But that's just saying Wisconsin's expectations aren't all that high. In men's basketball, an NIT-berth is absolutely nothing to brag about, and it shouldn't be in women's basketball either. Sure, the women's team hasn't experienced much postseason success in recent years while the men's team has made nine straight NCAA tournament appearances. Nevertheless, Wisconsin's goal for its women's basketball team should be the NCAA tournament or bust — there are no moral victories whatsoever in making it to the WNIT. Last year, the UW Athletic Board was right on in handling Stone's contract. After finishing the 2005-06 season with an 11-18 record, the board renewed Stone's contract, but didn't extend it. The message was clear: Wisconsin wanted to see vast improvements sooner rather than later. And for the most part, it did. But the fact of the matter is Stone just does enough each season to get by. Having covered the team during the 2005-06 season, I know Stone isn't satisfied with her sub-.500 record in four seasons at UW; she has high expectations of herself and her team. Don't get me wrong; I'm not calling for Stone's job or anything. Stone's a solid recruiter, and, if anything, the recent contract extension will only help her in that aspect. However, two of the best players in school history — Jolene Anderson and Janese Banks — will be seniors next season and, so far, don't have anything to show for everything they've given to the program. Give UW soccer some love While the UW men and women's soccer teams haven't been anything to brag about in recent years, both squads have been solid as of late. Plus, the UW women's team will get a major boost this upcoming season with Paula Wilkins, who holds the second-highest winning percentage in the nation among active coaches, taking over. But regardless of how good or bad either team is in years to come, both are still stuck in the McClimon Track/Soccer Complex. While McClimon may be one of the best outdoor track facilities in the nation, it's no better than a high school soccer field. For starters, it sits on a pretty steep slope. The seating is also very unfavorable for spectators with the bleachers sitting on a hill far behind the field. Furthermore, it doesn't even have an up-to-date scoreboard. Time in soccer is supposed to count up to 45 minutes for each half, but McClimon's age-old scoreboard is only able to count down — or at least that's how the operators choose to work it. Wisconsin's soccer programs deserve better — whether that means creating a new field or somehow renovating McClimon to upgrade its soccer field, I don't know. Either way, UW should start to appreciate both men and women's soccer teams a little bit more. Michael is a senior double majoring in journalism and communication arts. Any questions or comments can be sent to [email protected]
UW has room for progress
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