The operation kept Taylor out of all physical and basketball-related activities for six months. For any athlete, especially a senior, not being able to participate in the last hurrah with her teammates she had begun with four years prior was particularly devastating. Wurtz decided to grab a medical redshirt so she could be eligible for the 2013-2014 season and finish her illustrious career as a Badger on a high note.
“I wanted to be out there so bad, especially it being my senior year,” Wurtz said. “[Former Wisconsin guard] Tiera [Stephen] is my best friend, and we were supposed to be seniors together, so it sucked a lot.”
So Taylor watched her friends and teammates of four years play their final games together from a seat on the sideline, knowing that her book was yet to be closed. She credits the support of her family, her teammates and the coaching staff for giving her the confidence to stay positive and look ahead.
The Brandon, Wis. native and Ripon High School star began to see the upside of salvaging her final year of eligibility. Junior forward Michala Johnson became eligible this season after transferring from University of Connecticut and having to sit out the 2012-2013 season with Wurtz. Johnson offers an inside scoring presence that takes some of the pressure off Wurtz and other outside shooters. Sophomore Dakota Whyte had a year to develop and has stepped into the starting point guard role nicely this season. Wurtz said it is helpful that junior forward Jackie Gulczynski and senior guard Morgan Paige had a season to play valuable minutes, and both are now starting and contributing this season.
Wurtz began a long and difficult rehabilitation process in early June. She started by running and performing light basketball activities. It was not until July that she could fully participate in practice and contract drills. She took the back-to-square-one approach and used her situation to improve on all of her skills from shooting to ball handling.
The average fan would find it hard to believe that Wurtz sat out nearly all of last season, given her caliber of play and statistics thus far in 2013. In her first game back, the opener against Drake, Wurtz needed just five points to reach 1,000 for her career. With 8:51 remaining in the first half, Wurtz drained a three from the right wing to put her name in the history books. But as the selfless player she is, she was more concerned with the outcome than the milestone.
“It was nice to be able to get those points,” Wurtz said. “I was just happy to get the win on top of that. It was a good day.”
Wurtz has had no problem getting back into form. She leads the 5-2 Badgers in points per game (15.7) and rebounds (8.6). She is second on the team in assists with 24 (3.4 per game). She was named to the all-tournament team at the conclusion of the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament. She scored 24 points against Mercer in the first round and pulled down 14 rebounds. She put up 17 in a loss against Vanderbilt, averaging 21 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists throughout the tournament.
Despite her impressive numbers, some may argue that it is the intangibles, such as Wurtz’s leadership qualities (it is her third season as a captain), that make her invaluable to this Badgers squad.
“She’s definitely a leader that leads by example,” Whyte said. “She works the hardest as anyone I’ve ever played with. She sets the tone with her work ethic.”
Head coach Bobbie Kelsey inherited the six-foot guard after she took over the reigns in 2011. Kelsey says it has been a privilege to watch Taylor develop throughout her career and to watch her persevere through her injury.
“Taylor’s work-ethic is second-to-none, I wish we could put her work-ethic into other bodies,” Kelsey said. “She has been a real joy to coach.”
With Wurtz firing on all cylinders, the dominance down low of Johnson, and sharp shooting from the supporting cast, the Badgers have a chance to compete in conference play for the first time in several years.
When asked what she wanted to accomplish in her final year, she said she wants to win a Big Ten championship.
“I’ve never experienced it since I’ve been here,” Wurtz said. “I would love to be part of a team to do that.”
If there is a team Wurtz has been on to achieve that goal, this is the one. And there would be no more of a fitting player to lead them there.