This fall in University of Wisconsin sports has been filled with plenty of surprises, some pleasant and some not so much. While on one hand Badger football had one of the most disappointing seasons in program history, Badger basketball appears back on track for a return to the NCAA Tournament and possibly more. Volleyball and women’s soccer have already made impressive tournament runs. And early on, the women’s hockey team picked up right where they left off as the No. 1 team in the country while the young men’s hockey team continues to grow.
Needless to say there’s been a lot to talk about in Wisconsin sports this semester, but here are a few of the highlights:
Football: A season lost
Expectations were sky high for Badger football as they came into the season as College Football Playoff hopefuls and the No. 4 team in the country. The season began to unravel in a disheartening loss to unranked BYU at home in Camp Randall, which sent them down 12 spots in the AP poll from No. 6 to No. 18. The Badgers held par until week eight when the team got crushed by Big Ten rival Michigan 38–13 in the Big House.
Injuries and inconsistent play at the quarterback position by both Alex Hornibrook and backup Jack Coan defined the rest of the season. Hornibrook, who sustained a concussion in the win versus Illinois week nine, was unable to suit up in a critical game versus Northwestern essentially decided the Big Ten West champion.
Star running back Jonathan Taylor was contained for only 46 yards in the game and head coach Paul Chryst did not seem ready to give Coan reins of the offense yet, leading to a 31–17 defeat. After sustaining another head injury versus Rutgers, Coan would fill in once more versus Penn State. In the game, the Badger offense couldn’t move the ball at all outside of a breakout 71-yard touchdown.
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Though the team had an exciting comeback win in triple overtime versus Purdue, the nail in the coffin for Wisconsin’s season was their loss to rival Minnesota for the first time in 15 years in a crushing 37–15 defeat.
With Hornibrook healthy the whole game the Badgers were out of excuses. Looking back at their schedule the Badgers were only competitive in one of their losses to BYU and had it not been for a few close wins versus Purdue and Iowa, the team would not have even been bowl eligible.
Hopefully, Wisconsin football can turn the page on this forgettable season starting with their matchup in the Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 27 versus Miami.
Men’s basketball: The Trice is right
One team that has turned the page after a disappointing year has been the 2018-19 Badger men’s basketball team. The Badgers have made a dramatic turnaround just one year after failing to extend their 19 season NCAA Tournament streak.
With starting point guard D’Mitrik Trice and freshman guard Kobe King returning from season-ending injuries in 2017-18 the team’s offensive chemistry has taken a dramatic step forward. Trice is currently leading the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage and King has been a solid contributor off the bench.
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The main difference from this year to last on the team has been the ability to space the floor for star forward Ethan Happ.
Though Happ has excellent post moves and is a great facilitator for a big man, the senior’s lack of a jump shot has hindered Wisconsin’s potential in the past. Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford, Brad Davison and Trice fill the Badgers starting lineup with shooters. Along with a solid bench highlighted by King and Brevin Pritzl, Wisconsin probably has their strongest offensive lineup since 2015 when current NBA players Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker led the program.
On the defensive end, both Happ and Reuvers have continued to develop as defenders on the perimeter and in the post while Khalil Iverson is one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten coming off the bench.
After their win over No. 22 Iowa Nov. 30, Wisconsin tied themselves for the national lead in power five conference victories. Even after an overtime loss to Marquette last weekend, the Badgers seem poised to maintain or build on their current level of play.
Volleyball and women’s soccer: Tourney time in Madison
Wisconsin celebrated two NCAA tournament teams this fall — the volleyball team and women’s soccer team.
Led by the 2018 first team All American Dana Rettke, the Wisconsin volleyball team continued their record of excellence with a sixth straight Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
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The Badgers’ made national notice in the beginning of the season after taking down No. 2 Texas 3-1 on the Longhorns’ own turf. Other impressive wins in the regular season came against conference foes No. 16 Purdue, No. 7 Illinois and No. 5 Nebraska.
But the team also had their share of struggles, getting swept by rival No. 6 Minnesota and losing in a rematch versus Illinois.
When tournament time came, though, the Badgers were ready for the challenge, breezing through their first three rounds without dropping more than a set. Wins came against UW-Green Bay, Pepperdine and San Diego.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin fell to Illinois for the second of three times this season with a 3–1 loss in the Elite Eight.
The women’s soccer team experienced similar levels of success this season, ending the year as the No. 15 seed and reaching the Sweet 16 after victories over Memphis and Hofstra.
Some notes from the season were the Badgers ability to score on offense while forward Dani Rhodes was recovering from injury and slumping early in the year. Lauren Rice, Cameron Murtha and Emily Borgmann all combined for 17 goals in 2018.
On the other hand, once Rhodes heated up she completely took over on the attack for Wisconsin, scoring eight goals in the final seven games of the season, including a record-setting four-goal performance in the NCAA Tournament against Hofstra.
Women’s and men’s hockey: Greatness and potential
The women’s hockey team has left off right where they started last season. After losing in the Final Four, this team appears to have a chip on its shoulder and currently holds the No. 1 ranking in women’s hockey. Wisconsin leads the nation in wins with 18 to just one loss on the year to No. 2 Minnesota.
Though the Badgers have dominated their schedule so far, No. 6 Princeton and Minnesota were the only two ranked teams Wisconsin’s faced in the young season, winning three of those four contests by a combined 11–5 margin.
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The forward duo of Annie Pankowski and Abby Roque has been the core of this team. Pankowski leads in goals with 14 while Roque leads in assists with 19. Freshman Sophie Shirley has also been an integral part of the offense with 11 goals and eight assists on the year.
On the men’s side, the early season results were more mixed. The team is 8-7-3 and is currently just outside the top 20 rankings.
This could very well be the result of growing pains. The top four combined goals and assists leaders on the team are either freshman or sophomores, with defender K’Andre Miller leading the group as a freshman.
Also a freshman, goalkeeper Daniel Lebedeff has taken over in the net for junior Jack Berry. Lebedeff has performed well with a .911 save percentage and a 5-3-2 record.
The team is also heating up of late, coming off a sweep versus conference foe Michigan State last weekend.
While football may have put a cloud over the fall season for some Badger fans, many other teams on campus took significant steps forward in 2018. All things considered, the future of Wisconsin sports looks bright next semester and beyond.