The 2016 season for the University of Wisconsin softball team started off with a bang, with the Badgers taking down opponents such as the No. 39 California and No. 19 South Florida in February.
It was only the first month of the season, but the Badgers were already oozing with confidence.
At that point, after a disappointing 21-31 campaign in 2015, it was clear the Badgers were taking names, big and small, across the country and showed no signs of stopping. They were in store for a bounce-back season.
Even though most of their games consisted of tournament play for the first few weeks, the Badgers continued carrying the momentum they had begun to build when they started playing a more traditional schedule.
Their biggest tests, however, wouldn’t come for a while — they would finally see how they matched up against the Big Ten Conference. The Badgers would play 26 games before they saw another Big Ten team in action.
Their first Big Ten team was Michigan State University, who the Badgers defeated 2-1 in the series. Momentum continued for the team, and they started to find themselves in the position to take on highly-ranked teams within their own conference.
This was all in head coach Yvette Healy’s mind when she started the season.
“Every year we talk about ‘How can you have a good Big Ten season?’” Healy said. “You try to say ‘try to get a win against everybody’ and when you’re really good you try to sweep a couple of teams.”
Healy got her wish — Wisconsin has acquired wins from every Big Ten team they have met this season.
Perhaps one of their biggest wins came when Wisconsin stumped Minnesota at home. Minnesota, which is currently ranked No. 21 nationally, is a tough opponent to beat.
With wins against Minnesota and University of Illinois, it is clear this underdog team is capable of taking on anyone. While their national ranking of No. 69 might not show their true potential, it is clear this is a team on the rise in the Big Ten.
“It doesn’t matter what team we face, we can take on anybody,” sophomore infielder Sam Arnets said. “No matter their numbers, no matter how good of pitching they have, we can take them on.”
Arnets believes inexperience was one of the major downfalls of last year’s struggling team, which was comprised mostly of underclassmen.
“Coach Healy talks about experience and being there,” Arnets said. “I think that last year was really hard because we were a really young team and we didn’t have that [Big Ten] experience. We struggled early on.”
Above all, perhaps the most impressive milestone the Badgers reached this season was a win against Northwestern in their final home series of the season, which gave UW 10 Big Ten wins on the season.
Healy believes for a team like this, one of the more telling marks of achievement in a season is reaching double-digit wins in a conference like the Big Ten.
“Trying to get to 10 Big Ten wins is a big benchmark, so any season that you can put up double digit wins in the Big Ten you’re a quality program,” Healy said. “In the scope of the 20 years of the program, it doesn’t happen that often, so I think that it’s a special day.”
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The Badgers aren’t looking to settle at 10 wins, with one final series before the Big Ten Tournament against Nebraska where they can build on an already-successful season.