There’s just no substitute for success.
Many Wisconsin athletic programs enjoyed memorable seasons thanks to renewed success, as both the football and basketball teams shined bright for the university in the national spotlight many times. Pasadena, the Sweet Sixteen; these trips brought Bucky a revamped swagger.
But there’s another squad from Wisconsin that went the way of the state motto in 2011.
Anyone fortunate enough to wander down to a game at Goodman Diamond this past spring witnessed the softball program take a giant leap forward, as first year head coach Yvette Healy guided the program to its first 30-win season since 2005. Healy’s squad reached the mark through a homestand sweep of Ohio State in May, as the Badgers’ run ruled the Buckeyes in both games.
The Badgers earned 10 more wins than the previous year, marking the second-largest improvement in Wisconsin history. For Healy, this season was one of her personal favorites.
“This year was one of my most enjoyable years coaching college softball,” Healy said. “I attribute that to the amazing coaches and staff at Wisconsin. All of the head coaches did an amazing job reaching out to our staff and team, sharing ideas and strategies for success. (Assistant coaches) Randy Schneider and Tracie Adix did an amazing job running the program, keeping things organized, intense and fun, all at the same time.”
Perhaps what made the season unique for the Badgers was the age of the team. Healy took over a team with 14 of 19 spots filled by underclassman.
Healy approached the season looking for gradual improvement, but instead found instant results. Freshman Cassandra Darrah emerged as an ace on the mound for Wisconsin, posting 16 wins and an earned run average under 3.00. Healy also helped three Badgers earn All-Big Ten honors, with senior Jennifer Krueger named to the third team, freshman Mary Massei the second team and junior Karla Powell to the first team. Powell became just the third Badger ever to be named to the first team.
“I expected to get a little better everyday,” Healy said. “We really focused on improvement and the journey of taking pride in doing things the right way, working hard and leaving everything we had on the field. The team bought in, battled and played extremely hard for us.”
One of the important holes to be filled next season will be the void left by graduated senior Krueger, who besides being a leader and veteran of the program, led the team in hits. Krueger set the Wisconsin single-season record for hits in her final game as a Badger, slapping a single in the second inning against Ohio State.
Healy knows the speedy slugger, who also set a Badger record for career stolen bases, will be missed.
“You can’t replace a talent like Jen with just one athlete,” Healy said. “Her speed and leadership will be missed. I am very excited to see who has the hunger and passion to emerge as a leader at the top of our lineup.”
The Badgers will return all but three members of their roster, positioning themselves to expand on their success and be a major threat in the Big Ten next spring. Healy knows her club will have to stay hungry and motivated to replicate what they achieved this season.
“Our biggest challenge will be to maintain the energy, excitement and focus that our team displayed this season,” Healy said. “It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and maturity to sustain the kind of energy and momentum we created this season. I think our athletes have a tremendous amount of pride for getting this program on track and accomplishing a 30-win season.”
Healy hopes to accomplish this by continuing to add talent to her roster, providing a constant competition for playing time.
“We will raise the level of competition each year by recruiting some of the top athletes in the country and infusing talent into the program,” Healy said. “Character will be tested by how each member of the team reacts to competition. The best leaders thrive in competitive challenging environments.”
“These next few years will test and hopefully build character and leadership within the softball family,” Healy added. “Our current athletes will certainly need to embrace the challenges of competition as we grow as a program.”
The journey toward cementing a winning tradition at Wisconsin continues for Healy and her staff, as the coaches’ summer to-do list is longer than a Madison summer day.
“Sometimes we’re on the road Tuesday to Friday recruiting 12-14 hour days in Colorado, Arizona, California or Chicago,” Healy said. “When we’re in Madison, we’re running camps and spending days with our best recruits and their families touring campus and selling Wisconsin.”
“My favorite days are filled with film breakdown, creating new drills, strategizing how to make our current team as good as possible while identifying weaknesses in our opponents,” Healy added. “We are 100 percent committed to helping our current student athletes maximize their talents and reach their goals. Its fun to spend hours brainstorming how to make our infield’s range better, or how to improve overall athleticism in our current group. We can’t wait to help make them even better.”