The 2019 University of Wisconsin softball team (31-8, 8-5 Big Ten) has already had an outstanding, record-breaking season that’s put Madison back on the map within the NCAA softball world.
As worry from fans grew after last year’s team lost so much of its leadership and seniority, within the program, a quiet, calm confidence began to grow.
This belief grew not only in the leadership that emerged from new upperclassmen but in the trust Head Coach Yvette Healy had in her incoming young core of freshmen and sophomores.
As a whole, Wisconsin athletic teams are not ones where fans can expect to see a lot of true freshman or underclassmen take the court or field. The idea of earning your spot and training under a leading scorer has always been the mentality of Wisconsin athletics.
But Healy’s lineup seems to break from that norm as she consistently starts two true freshman and three sophomores in her regular lineup.
The young Badger team made their presence known in the opening tournaments of the season where they posted a 17–2 record that included upsets over then No. 9 Texas and No. 15 Arizona State.
Ever since their opening tournaments and since entering Big Ten play, this young core’s firepower has only intensified, and their confidence continues to grow.
Much of this young core’s success falls onto the shoulders of freshmen Ally Miklesh and Jolie Fish.
Miklesh is a true freshman center fielder from Stevens Point Area High School in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
Miklesh routinely finds herself in center field due to her canon of an arm, speed to burn and unwavering will to win.
During her high school career, Miklesh led the Wisconsin Valley Conference in hits, batting average, runs scored, stolen bases and triples in 2017. Goodman Diamond is also a familiar place for the center fielder, as she led her high school team to two state appearances and one state title in 2016 — she regularly attended camps to catch the eyes of the Badger coaching staff.
Though Miklesh found success in high school, the transition to Division I softball can cause trouble for incoming freshmen. Luckily for both Miklesh and Healy, Miklesh seemed like she didn’t skip a beat.
“Ally is a local kid and she’s been coming to camp for years,” Healy said. “So I think that helps her a lot that she really knew our offense and our defense coming in.”
Miklesh said the philosophy that sometimes grit and hustle outweigh talent was one thing she took from her high school career into her Badger career. Coming from and in-state high school also meant a lot to the transition and passion Miklesh carries with her each game.
“I just really want to be a part of this team,” Miklesh said.
As a Badger, Miklesh has posted a .289 batting average with 26 hits in 90 plate appearances.
She currently has the fifth-best batting average on the team and has outperformed many of her seasoned teammates as she acts as the turnover in the lineup, batting ninth.
“My personal goals are just keep producing, keep turning over for the top of the lineup and doing my job,” Miklesh said. “I really think the sky’s the limit for this team.”
Humility radiates from Miklesh when you meet her but in the field, she takes no prisoners. She does not hold back, she does not stutter and she credits many of her characteristics to her coaching staff at Wisconsin, especially the coaches who have helped develop her as a contact hitter.
Miklesh also sports an impressive .333 slugging percentage and a nearly perfect .947 fielding percentage.
While her talent is undeniable, Miklesh isn’t the only freshman Wisconsin has up their sleeve.
Fish is a true freshman from Carl Albert High School in Oklahoma.
There, Fish was a part of four state-qualifying teams and stole more bases than any of her teammates for four years straight.
As a junior, she was named All-District Offensive Player of the Year.
“Jolie has speed, power, and athleticism,” Healy said. “She can hit for average and put the ball over the fence.”
As a Badger, Fish has already notched a home run under her belt and has a respectable .245 batting average with 23 hits in 94 plate appearances.
Along with being a freshman and going through the transition of high school to Division I softball, Fish has also had to make a position adjustment due to a change in rotation to make up for a hand injury to senior catcher Melanie Cross.
Due to Cross’s injury, sophomore Taylor Johnson has taken over behind the plate for the Badgers which moves Fish from a comfortable middle infielder position to the hot corner of third base.
“She’s got double the learning curve because she played second base and then had to switch over with the injury to Mel Cross to play third,” Healy said. “She’s just up for learning and she’s a kid that doesn’t get down on herself.”
But, making that transition to third and earning a starting sport off of injury didn’t change the mentality that Fish brought to Wisconsin.
“I just wanted to come in and make an impact,” Fish said. “Growing up in Oklahoma, I always saw teams coming and playing in the world series, and I always knew I was going to come back and win a world series with this team.”
Fish currently has nine RBIs as a Badger and had an impressive showing against Iowa where she tallied three hits — two of which brought runs home.
Most impressive, Fish has posted a .955 fielding percentage even after her position transition.
Both Miklesh and Fish are extremely humble even amidst great success and contribution to the winning Wisconsin softball team. Both freshmen have stepped up tremendously to fill the shoes of the players who came before them.
Wisconsin has three other freshman — Tyra Turner, Savanna Rainy and pitcher Maddie Schwartz.
Schwartz holds a 1.38 ERA on 18 appearances for the Badgers. Turner is a reliable pinch runner and outfielder when called upon and had totaled seven stolen bases on the season.
After losing Cross to injury, the Badgers have only two contributing seniors in Kelly Welsh and Stephanie Lombardo in the usual lineup. As both are major contributors, Welsh and Lombardo’s shoes will have to be filled by the underclassmen and future freshmen to come.
It truly is an exciting time to be a Badger — as the true freshman athlete is being redefined by Wisconsin softball, Fish and Miklesh are setting the bar high for those to come.
What a freshman is expected to accomplish to be a part of the Badger program grows every day as Fish and Miklesh improve.
While the next four years hold a lot of questions and variables that could influence the Badger softball program, it is clear that Miklesh and Fish are ready to lead the way.