When Taylor Wurtz entered the 2012-13 season, it was okay that she held high hopes. It was her time; her moment as the leader of the Wisconsin women’s basketball team.
Senior guard Wurtz was named one of three captains for the season and was coming off her second team all-Big Ten campaign in 2011. An elevated outlook was by no means unfair. She treated those high expectations to a quick start this season, averaging 12.6 points in the Badgers’ first five games.
Wurtz’ 11 points and six rebounds helped Wisconsin topple Evansville 73-55 and turn their record over .500, and she was just getting started. Those first five games hold back some of the story, however.
The Ripon native had missed the Badgers’ first two exhibition matches due to a nagging injury that just wouldn’t go away. She sternly looked forward to a great senior season to remember, but there was always something behind her, holding her down. She had herniated discs in her back.
Wurtz hasn’t played since.
She needed surgery and was forced to take a medical redshirt for the season. Wurtz could have dropped into a gloomy state of helplessness. After all, herniated discs can make general movement a less-than amusing excursion. Her best friend and co-captain and senior guard Tiera Stephen cracked the starting rotation and the two would finally play significant minutes. It was the first significant injury of her lengthy basketball career.
It would have been easy to wallow, but she took a different route. When asked about her personal injury, the first thought to her mind was how nice it has been to see her teammates fill the void she left in the lineup. Once the on-court leader of the offense, Wurtz is now a leader on the sidelines.
Wurtz traded in her jersey for a blouse. Her basketball shoes were switched out for heeled boots. If you didn’t know that she was an all-Big Ten performer a season ago, you would peg her as an assistant coach. In the end, that’s not an awful assumption.
She may not be wearing a uniform but she is helping those that are. One of them is freshman guard Nicole Bauman, the player that replaced Wurtz once she left the lineup.
While the New Berlin native has made a solid transition into the role of a starter, the once-nervous frosh attributes some of her success to Wurtz’ help.
“She always tells me to keep my head up and keep working,” Bauman said. “She says that ‘everything will come, my shot will come.’”
Her free will and experience helps her encourage her teammates, and many times that’s exactly what her coaches need from her in this redshirt year.
Just because Wurtz isn’t an authoritative figure for Wisconsin doesn’t mean she can’t influence her teammates. Assistant coach Alysiah Bond appreciates Wurtz’ experience on the court and lavished about her ability to fill in the gaps for the coaching staff off the court.
“It’s different when you hear it from your peers. As coaches, we can say the same message,” Bond said. “When it comes from a different voice, they receive it differently, and people often follow those that they respect.”
Although Wurtz has made a great transition off the court, it would be unfair to say the Badgers haven’t needed her at some point. Wisconsin has undergone an up-and-down season with their best performances being quite fantastic and their biggest struggles running rather rank. With three years of varsity experience, it hasn’t been easy for Wurtz to watch the dips and climbs.
“You want to be out there, helping them,” Wurtz said. “When you go from playing almost the whole game to not even seeing the court, it’s a big adjustment and you want to be struggling with them.”
Wurtz noted that she still feels a part of the team and reminds herself of that fact from time to time. As the season has continued without her, the Badgers have been reminded of this as well.
Of Wisconsin’s 15 losses this season, nearly half — seven — have come by single digits. Wurtz’ 10.3 career points per game would certainly help their cause.
But apart from her on-court presence and game averages, the Badgers actually miss Wurtz in practice quite a bit too.
When Wisconsin lost Wurtz for the season, “[We lost] an example, on a daily basis, of the difference that work ethic makes,” according to Bond.
“She is consistently someone that you could always look to and know they are going all out on every play,” Bond continued. “For a team that is filled with young people, they need that example.”
And when the Badgers leave Madison, they lose Wurtz’ example and encouraging presence. As a redshirt, Wurtz misses out on the luxury and team camaraderie of road trips. Wisconsin unfortunately is forced to leave one of their captains behind.
Add that to the list of adverse developments Wurtz has been forced to deal with in redshirting her senior season. But not all is lost and bleak for Wurtz.
She has enjoyed the company of teammate AnnMarie Brown and men’s player Josh Gasser in the training room — both are out with torn ACLs. Those two have aided her progress through her own rehab and have helped her look forward to each pit stop on her lengthy journey back to the court.
“I try to take it day-by-day,” Wurtz said after noting excitement that she can now do pool workouts. “I’m usually looking forward to the next step in rehab, but I’m going to be happy when I can start shooting again. Then I’ll be satisfied.”