With football season still a seemingly long way down the road and basketball now a distant afterthought, the sports scene on campus is rather barren. That’s not such a bad thing.
For more than three-quarters of the school year, football and basketball, even hockey to an extent, dominate the thoughts and minds of the students on campus, or at least the sports fanatics, for seven months. A run to the Final Four or a berth in the Rose Bowl can bring together the entire campus community in a period of sustained school pride.
And although there’s nothing inherently bad about those moments, which provide many in the student body with lifelong memories, the revenue sports have a tendency to overshadow the nonrevenue sports that receive little to no press coverage along with mediocre — at the best — attendance at their events.
But this time of year is different. Spring marks a new beginning and a new sports season, and for most schools throughout the country and all the other Big Ten schools it means baseball season. But not in Wisconsin. Although it’s been written about and discussed by a wide variety of people throughout the years — even I succumbed to the urge to discuss the topic in one of my first columns last year — UW does not have a baseball team at present and most likely will not have one for a long time, if ever.
Not having America’s supposed national pastime on campus is disheartening for a fair amount of students, myself included. But the absence of a baseball team allows the Wisconsin softball team to step into the limelight, something that most likely would not happen at a lot of other schools that claim ownership to a baseball team.
This weekend the softball team hosted Purdue in a three-game set at Goodman Diamond, and arguably more resounding than the sweep by the Badgers was the fact that 1,371 fans made their way out to the second game of the Saturday doubleheader. It was the second largest crowd to ever take in a Wisconsin softball game behind the 2,007 in attendance at the May 5 game last season against Michigan State. Wisconsin is not only creating a culture of winning around the softball program but a solid fan base behind the team.
A lot of the success of the fan base surrounding the team though is due to the culture of success that Wisconsin has created over the last few seasons, linked directly to the change at the top. When head coach Yvette Healy was hired a little less than four years ago, Wisconsin was by no means a bad program, but the Badgers were just average, nothing less and nothing more. Upon Healy’s arrival, however, Wisconsin has gone from mediocrity to an NCAA tournament team and Big Ten tournament champion.
Although the success of last season may be tough to match, when Wisconsin achieved both of the aforementioned tasks on the way to winning a school-record 44 games, the Badgers have certainly put up another strong effort this season with five games remaining in the regular season. The 30 wins to this point in the season for Wisconsin marks the fourth-straight year in which it has attained that milestone, all of which have come under Healy.
This season’s start actually made it look like it would be a rebuilding year under Healy. After losing to Minnesota April 6, which dropped the Badgers’ overall record to a rather average 17-15, they have since reeled off 13-straight wins to match the longest winning streak in school history that came in the middle of last season.
Senior pitcher Cassandra Darrah has led the charge for Wisconsin on the mound with her 18-10 record, but after losing Meghan McIntosh to graduation after last season, there was a question mark as to who would step up into the second spot in the Badgers’ rotation. After seeing limited time last season, sophomore Taylor-Paige Stewart has answered the call for Wisconsin and given Healy a viable option in the circle outside of Darrah and is a big part of why Wisconsin has been so hot as of late.
But the offense has come up huge lately in its own right and seniors Michelle Mueller and Mary Massei have been at the forefront of the offensive explosion. After having the third-most RBIs in a season last year, Mueller has set the UW record for the most RBIs in a season this year  along with 11 round-trippers to her credit with games still left to play. Massei, who set seven individual records a year ago, may not reach that level this year but still has been a key piece of the offensive puzzle as of late with her eight home runs and a batting average just a shade under .400.
If the Badgers are to match their season from a year ago when they made it to the NCAA tournament after winning the Big Ten tournament title, they will need to keep up the torrid pace they have played at lately. But with Healy in charge, such high expectations have now become the norm for the softball team.
And because the sports scene at Wisconsin is lighter come spring time, the softball team’s success and newly formed culture can be appreciated for what it’s worth.
Dan is a sophomore with an undeclared major. Do you agree with him that not having a major sport during spring time is beneficial? Let him know by sending him an email at [email protected] or shooting him a tweet @DanCoco7.