July 24, 2010.
That was the date when athletic director Barry Alvarez announced who would take over the Wisconsin softball program. Alvarez cited the fact that this coach had proven herself to be a winner both as a player and a coach as instrumental in her hire.
Meet head coach Yvette Healy.
Before her success came from leading a club, Healy was a dominant college player. She left her name in the record books of her alma mater DePaul, holding the second-best batting average in a season (.424) and the all-time record in stolen bases (102). Healy was a two time All-American and a three time Academic All-American, and as a senior, she led DePaul to a school-record 54 victories and an appearance in the College World Series.
In only her twenties, when she accepted her first head coach position at Loyola (Ill.), Healy turned around a Rambler program with five 20-win seasons and a 2007 Horizon League regular season title. For her efforts in 2007, Healy was named Horizon League Coach of the Year.
A proven winner herself, she sought to add more to her staff.
Healy’s first move as head coach came in the hiring of two experienced assistant coaches, Randy Schneider and Tracie Adix. Schneider, who serves as the Badgers hitting coach, served previously as the head coach at Valparaiso, where he led the Crusaders to 20 or more wins in six of his seven seasons at the helm. Previously, the school had only reached it three times in the last 22 years. Adix serves as the Badgers pitching coach, and for good reason. Recruited to play in 2004 by then-assistant coach Healy at DePaul, Adix eventually went on in 2007 to earn Big East Pitcher-of-the-Year honors and was named second team All American, leading her team to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
“All their experience has helped so much,” senior Jennifer Krueger said. “Both coach Healy and coach Adix have played at a really high level themselves, so they know what it takes to be a great player. All of them know how to coach because they’ve been in winning programs in the past. Coach Schneider always puts in extra work and does all the little things for us, as well as stats and positioning for the upcoming games.”
Alvarez and Wisconsin have looked like geniuses with their hire of Healy. In her inaugural season as the head coach of the Badgers, Healy has already coached her team to 27 wins. With four games remaining, Healy has her squad in position to win 30 games, a feat that’s only been accomplished five times in school history.
“She [Healy] instills a competitive spirit in everyone,” Adix said. “Having played for her, she was very competitive. She really tries to instill that aggressiveness in everything you do. Even when we’ve played wiffleball, she dove after the ball and slid into bases. It shows she’s a competitor in everything she does and it really resonates well with the team.”
The Wisconsin players also credit Healy’s high energy and dedication, things that are easily noticeable for people fortunate enough to cross the head coach’s path.
“The energy she brings everyday is amazing,” Krueger said. “I don’t know how she does it, but everyday, it’s there. It helps us work harder because she’s never down a day, we always want to match that energy.”
That positive outlook and coaching style seems to have been the right fit for the team. The Badgers have an energy about them in the dugout, on the field and in between innings that defines the team, effectively distancing the program from the past two years, when the Badgers have finished with a 15-40 overall record.
“Over the past couple years, there wasn’t really this kind of energy and focus,” junior Karla Powell said. “Coach wants to keep the energy very high on this team, and she’s the example of that. She’s so upbeat and positive everyday.”
Healy’s positive fashion has meshed well for a young Wisconsin team, where 14 underclassmen fill out 19 of the roster spots. Expectations were not high at the beginning of the season, as Healy herself stated her understanding that she was looking for a gradual improvement throughout the season. However, with her first season almost being under wraps, Healy and her team have taken huge strides to change the culture of Wisconsin softball.
“No doubt the change starts with the attitude of the players,” Schneider said. “Getting them to buy into a new system and teaching them positively is something we work hard at and have done well with. The kids have worked hard as well and made it easier for us.”
Healy knew early on she had a great group of players with the personalities necessary for changing the program.
“We did camp before the season started, and I was surprised at how much I liked all the players,” Healy said. “I’m a big personality person, and these young women wanted to have a good relationship with me. They care about that give and take between players and their coach. It grew my respect for them right off the bat; we approached this season as the players and coaches as partners in rebuilding the program, and I think they appreciated that.”
The mesh between Healy and her players appeared to be imminent early on. The Badgers tied the school record for most consecutive wins, spanning over two tournaments on the Badgers’ spring break road trip, to jump out of the gates to a 14-7 start. What was even more impressive was the fact Healy started four freshman for the majority of the games.
“We were lucky we had some nice wins early on,” Healy said. “I think everyone gets more excited for the new system when you do win, so spring break for us was the best thing that could have happened. If you lose 10 out of 14 on spring break instead of winning 10 out of 14, nobody wants to listen to how you’re coaching. We’re really fortunate we had a lot of come from behind wins. A lot of that comes from preparation; we have a new scouting approach, and coach Schneider brought a lot of that with him.”
The success from early in the season transferred, as Wisconsin is in position to capture its first winning record since 2005. Healy has found rewards in her new job with Wisconsin, with her assistant coaches helping to share the burden of her first year on the job.
“For this year, and I have to put it on the staff, it’s been one of the more enjoyable years I’ve coached,” Healy said. “I’ve been in a situation before where I was the only one coming down on a team and laying down the law. When you have a really strong staff like Randy and Tracie, it makes it such a nice dynamic to have on the team.”
Krueger, the lone starting senior on the team, knows from her years of experience in the program and from comparison that Healy is the right fit for the job.
“She’s going to do great things here,” Krueger said. “It’s just a matter of the younger players getting older and learning from there. It’s been a special year to me, and I’m glad I had this experience with her.”