Less than nine months ago, coach Yvette Healy was brought in to help rebuild Wisconsin softball for the future. Few thought the future was going to come so soon.
In her first season with the team, Healy has guided the Badgers to a 15-9 start, its best since 2007, including a school record eight-game winning streak.
“That was fun,” Healy said. “The girls were focused and won games in a number of different ways. Everybody really had to contribute to get that going.”
One of the players who contributed to the winning streak was senior outfielder Jennifer Kreuger, who recorded at least one hit in 19 straight games, setting a new school record.
“I really didn’t know it was that many games,” Kreuger said. “I knew it was getting up there, but it’s kind of exciting that I broke a record.”
The success is much deserved for a player who has been hampered by multiple injuries and has dealt with nothing but losing seasons throughout her time at Wisconsin.
“It’s extremely rewarding,” Kreuger said. “I’m having so much fun, compared to years past. All the girls are getting along, playing their hardest, and having fun.”
Kreuger’s patience and dedication has not gone unnoticed by the new coaching staff. Even though it is her first year seeing Kreuger play, Healy is more than aware of the obstacles the senior has overcome and realizes just how important she is to this team.
“Jen [Kreuger] is a spark at the top of the lineup,” Healy said. “She loves being a Badger, plays hard and makes things happen. She’s been injured before, so she has a lot of passion in her game right now being back on the field.”
While seniors are an integral part of this Badger team, they are outnumbered by the freshmen, five to three. Freshmen or not, few are playing better than pitcher Cassandra Darrah. The freshman righty threw her ninth straight complete game en route to Saturday’s 7-1 victory over San Diego. The win gave Darrah an unprecedented 10-1 record to start her career.
“That’s a crazy number,” Healy said. “She competes; she doesn’t look like a freshman out there. She has great composure and keeps getting better every game.”
The pitcher from Corydon, Iowa has grown accustomed to success over the years. During her high school career, Darrah was named all-conference twice and named the MVP of her team. She also recorded 1,278 career strikeouts. Even accolades such as these didn’t prevent Darrah from admitting just how surprised she was by her 10-win start.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Darrah said. “I didn’t expect that, that’s for sure. Now I realize that I can hang with them.”
The confidence expressed by Darrah is a rare attribute among most freshmen, but it is becoming commonplace among these Badger players. They don’t have to go far to find who to thank, as the new coaching staff has reinvigorated this team in every facet.
“I really like all of our coaches, just the chemistry they have together,” Kreuger said. “They all have fun, and it carries right over to our team. We’re like one big family.”
The fast start has injected new life into this Badger squad and has inevitably raised expectations heading into the Big Ten season.
While many wonder just how good this Badger team can be, Healy is more content with the progress her team has made.
“Right now we’re happy to get the wins,” Healy said. “Obviously, you want to keep the momentum going and you want to try to play more consistent, but we’re happy where we’re at right now. We just want them to stay focused heading into Big Ten play.”
It may seem complacent, but high expectations are something foreign to this team. Complacency may be exactly what they need. After all, this mentality has carried the team to its best start since 2007 and a stretch where they won a record-setting eight games in a row. While Big Ten play will certainly be tougher, the competition was nothing to scoff at.
“We beat some good teams during that streak,” Kreuger said. “We didn’t really worry about more than just playing that next game and whatever happens, happens.”
While the team may be pleased with its early success, don’t be fooled, the Badger players have goals just like anyone else.
“I want to keep being a good leader and keep winning,” Kreuger said. “That’s really all we’re trying to do.”