As overused sports clich?s go, the notion of the “ironman” athlete remains one of the most well-respected. When well-earned, the moniker indicative of consistent, tireless production through pain, injury and insult is a tremendous compliment to hallowed athletes such as Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig and Brett Favre.
For Wisconsin women’s basketball, the list of “ironwomen” has generally consisted of greats LaTonya Sims, Tamara Moore and Jolene Anderson. Now, after Sunday’s 66-58 triumph over Indiana, UW has another name to add to that list: Rae Lin D’Alie.
Since Nov. 10, 2006, the 5-foot-3 senior guard from Waterford, Wis. has played in every one of the 125 games the Badgers have taken the court for.
Previously, Moore and Sims, mainstays of the late ’90s and early 2000s Wisconsin squads, held the consecutive games and overall games played streaks. D’Alie also has started more games — 124 — overall than Anderson, who owned the record from 2004 to 2008.
“It’s an awesome thing,” D’Alie said of owning all three records. “I’ve been blessed; the people here have been great, I never thought I’d have gone four years, almost, without an injury — knock on wood.”
For D’Alie, the only significant time missed came in the 2007 WNIT Championship game. Only four minutes into the game, the then-freshman suffered a broken hand and was forced to the sidelines.
“I remember just wanting to play and the atmosphere was great,” D’Alie said. “Being out there for two minutes and then having to watch the rest of the game in the emergency room was kind of a bummer … It’s crazy to think that that was the last game of my freshman year, so I didn’t miss a game because of it.”
After that injury, D’Alie returned to the court as one of the Badgers’ key leaders on and off the court.
The next year, with another point guard in the highly touted Alyssa Karel — now the team’s leading scorer — coming in as a freshman, D’Alie’s leadership presence grew noticeably.
“As much as it was kind of a competition between us, I was able to learn a lot from her,” Karel said of D’Alie. “Her being a sophomore, having a year under her belt, it was fun to have a teacher. In practice, we would compete a lot and keep going at each other because we were both competing for playing time, but at the same time, I think we both learned a lot from each other.
“I’m not going to say I was intimidated by her, but I thought it kind of presented a challenge.”
Averaging 8.2 points per game this season after Sunday’s contest, D’Alie has widely eclipsed her career average of 6.5 this season. Always regarded as a natural leader despite being one of the smallest players in the nation, D’Alie’s biggest impact has been seen in guiding the Badgers to their best start since her freshman year.
Currently tied for third in the Big Ten at 8-6 (18-7 overall), Wisconsin is off to its best start since the 2006-07 campaign, when the Badgers set the school record for wins with 23.
“She’s always been a leader on the team, but this year it’s been something completely different,” Karel said. “I think she’s made a lot of changes in her life, and she’s really brought it on the court… she’s so unselfish this year and it’s really refreshing to see because it’s so effective in the way she leads. She’s doing it for everyone else, and that makes everyone else want to do it for each other, too.”
Despite finding herself in the spotlight right now, D’Alie’s career has not always seen smooth sailing.
In addition to her crushing 2007 injury, the guard endured a trying 2008-09 season she has repeatedly characterized as disappointing. Despite being voted a captain for the first time in her UW career, D’Alie suffered from what seemed like a lack of focus. Botching layups left and right, missing vital free throws and repeatedly turning the ball over in crucial situations, D’Alie nearly lost her starting job.
Before this season, head coach Lisa Stone contemplated making a switch at point guard. After all, the Badgers are a guard-heavy team with only four post players on the roster.
Once the 2009-10 season approached, however, Stone saw a different D’Alie.
“Rae Lin has matured,” Stone said. “She’s grown into a delightful young woman, she has a very good understanding of life and its importance. She has a very strong faith, and that has guided her through tough times and put her in position to where this year, she’s never been as comfortable.
“I’m really proud of her for that.”
In addition to increasing her scoring numbers, D’Alie has also become a more efficient shooter, posting a career high 45.7 percent field goal percentage. Off the court, the Badger has resumed her place as one of, if not the most, influential leaders on the team.
“Whenever she’s on the court, it kind of brings a sense of relief,” Karel said. “I trust her 100 percent in any situation… I just feel comfortable when she’s on the court because I know that she can handle the pressure and she can make things happen.”
For Stone, D’Alie’s maturation has been especially noteworthy.
Passed over by several programs because of her lack of height, D’Alie signed late into Wisconsin’s 2006 recruiting class. Since her high school days and through the tribulations of last season, Stone has viewed the diminutive point guard as a special player — one who surely will be hard to replace, as well.
“We’ll miss her smile, we’ll miss her commitment, we’ll miss her friendship,” Stone said. “There are tremendous memories that are made every year and when players graduate, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.
“She’s left a legacy, she’s left a tremendous impact on our program and I’m just very proud to have coached her.”