It may be early, but it looks like this could be the year the Wisconsin women’s basketball team is ready to return to the NCAA Tournament under new coach Bobbie Kelsey.
While the Badgers lost their senior trio of Lin Zastrow, Alyssa Karel and Tara Steinbauer that powered last year’s team, things are looking up for the women’s basketball program. The three seniors were the top three scorers for Wisconsin and the foundation of the team’s offense, but the squad returns several key starters and a new coach who could hold the key to getting the program back on its feet.
Kelsey, who Barry Alvarez selected in April as the new Badgers women’s basketball coach after the firing of Lisa Stone, comes from one of the top programs in the nation at Stanford. While the young coach has never held a position as a head coach, her experience as a top assistant for the Cardinal should bring a winning tradition to a program that has failed to live up to expectations in recent years.
Though she may not have experience at the helm of a program, Kelsey was a part of plenty of success at Stanford. The Cardinal reached the Final Four all four years she was a part of the staff, including a 2010 runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament. While it might be a bit ambitious to say that she will quickly bring similar results to the Badgers, Kelsey’s strong record of success should have the Badgers in a good spot this year. Missing out on the NCAA Tournament entirely last season and exiting in disappointing fashion in the first round in 2010, Wisconsin looks prepared to once again participate in March Madness under their new coach.
Sure, critics might say she hasn’t proven herself as a head coach. But Kelsey’s enthusiasm for the game could go a long way in a program in the middle of a facelift. In addition, the new coach has already shown what may be one of her most valuable skills — her ability as a recruiter. Picking up a commitment from Nicole Bauman, an all-state guard from New Berlin, and Shannon Malone, a forward out of Flower Mound, Texas, Kelsey has shown that her time with Stanford turned her into a great recruiter. Bauman turned down the likes of Marquette and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to join the Badgers, while picking up Malone shows Kelsey’s ability to bring players from across the country to Wisconsin.
Outside of the new coach, the key to Wisconsin’s success on the hardwood this season starts with Taylor Wurtz, a junior guard who was a regular starter last season and averaged 8.3 points to go along with a team-leading 6.4 rebounds per game. While Wurtz’s numbers may not seem like someone ready to take control of a team, it’s important to keep in mind that she was usually on the court with three other players putting up double figures.
A player known for her accuracy behind the three-point arc during her freshman year, Wurtz proved that she was a complete player last year as UW’s starting shooting guard. Now in her third year as a regular player for the Badgers, the team’s success could hinge on her ability to step in as a leader this year.
Backing up the junior guard in the backcourt will be senior forward Anya Covington, an emotional leader of the team who stepped up for the team last year after Steinbauer went out for the year with a torn ACL. A fierce presence around the glass, the Illinois native’s intensity and defensive presence should propel Wisconsin on the defensive side of the court. Picking up over four rebounds per game last season while averaging just 15.9 minutes of play per game, look for Covington to break out this year as a post player.
Joining these upperclassmen are two returning sophomores in guard Morgan Paige and forward/center Cassie Rochel. Although just in her second year, Paige gained valuable experience early in 2010 while the star point guard Karel was out. Starting 10 games for the Badgers last year, the sophomore should return this year ready to step in as the starting point guard and lead the Wisconsin offense.
Rochel, a talented 6-foot-4 forward/center who saw significant playing time last season, should return with a more developed game and better ability to take advantage of her size against opponents. The Lakeville, Minn., native showed flashes of brilliance last year, including a 10-point performance against Ohio State, and should be a much-improved post player this year. While the Badgers probably can’t rely on Rochel to power their offensive game in 2011, she should see a lot more playing time and could turn into a surprise star for the UW women’s basketball squad.
Add in important role players like backup point guard Tiera Stephen and shutdown defender Jade Davis, and the Badgers look like a complete squad ready to surprise the Big Ten this season. Don’t expect Wisconsin to bring home a Big Ten crown or make it to the Elite Eight, but with a team full of young players ready for a breakout year and a new coach who looks like someone to build a program around, UW seems poised to make it back to the NCAA Tournament and stay competitive in the Big Ten title race.
Ian is a junior majoring in journalism. Do you think Bobbie Kelsey will lead the Badgers to success? Let him know at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @imccue.