Star forward Dani Rhodes made her mark in Madison the moment she stepped onto the field as a freshman. The Waukesha, Wisconsin, native started her career for the Badgers by participating in all 22 games and immediately having a significant impact on the team’s fate.

Her opening year was just an introduction. Over the next three years, Rhodes went on to hone her game and cement herself as the leader of the team in overall offensive production. In just her second season competing with the team, Rhodes led the Badgers in total goals, assists, points and shots on goal.

This trend continued into Rhodes’ junior season as she helped carry the Badgers to a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2018 NCAA tournament — only the second time the team had advanced that far in their history. Rhodes again led the team in goals, assists, total shots and shots on goal.

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In each of these two seasons, however, Rhodes often was able to put up such numbers despite the fact she often did not play the entire game. In her sophomore season, Rhodes started all 22 games for the Badgers. Yet she was ninth on the team for total minutes played throughout the season, trailing the leading time played by 400 minutes. Not much changed in the 2018 season as Rhodes continued to lead the team in offensive output despite not leading the team in minutes played.

Rhodes played even fewer minutes in 2018 than she did in 2017, as she was 11th on the team for total minutes played throughout the season. While some of this is undoubtedly because forwards tend to get subbed out more frequently near the ends of games, it does not account for the extent of the discrepancy as fellow forward Cameron Murtha played over 100 minutes more than Rhodes during 2018.

Rhodes led the Badgers to successful season after successful season despite the fact that she saw the field less than almost every other starter on the team. Had she played the rest of those games, there is no telling what ridiculous stat lines she may have accrued.

Rhodes clearly acted as the lifeblood of the of the Badgers as they made three straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. She has continued to do so in her final season in the cardinal and white.

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Rhodes currently leads the team in goals, points, total shots and shots on goal. With 11 goals on the season, Rhodes has scored over 40% of the Badgers’ goal total. Once again, Rhodes achieved this feat with limited playing time compared to her fellow starters. Rhodes ranks just ninth on the team for total minutes played at this point in the 2019 season.

Each and every minute Rhodes plays is meaningful. There is little time for her to remain on the field with other starters in order to pad her stats. Even with her relatively limited time on the field compared to starting defensemen and midfielders, Rhodes has undoubtedly been the most important factor in the Badgers’ success this year.

In fact, the Badgers’ losses this season are more indicative of her importance to the team than even their wins. For example, the Purdue Boilermakers recently knocked the Badgers out of the Big Ten tournament in the first round. The Boilermakers were a No. 8 seed while the Big Ten champion Badgers were a No. 1 seed. It was a poor loss and the Boilermakers were able to pull off the upset by effectively shutting Rhodes down.

Rhodes managed to get off just two total shots on the game while others, namely forwards Murtha and Emma Jaskaniec and midfielder Maia Cella, each put up three a piece. Rhodes also trailed Murtha and Jaskaniec in shots on goal for the game.

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There’s really no way around it. Even against a team that they handled in the regular season, the Badgers need Rhodes to have a strong performance. If she doesn’t, her prowess on the field has to capture the majority of their attention in order to free others to have scoring opportunities. When she is relegated to just the fourth best offensive producer on the team, it’s difficult for that to happen. It is for this same reason the Badgers barely held on against Purdue earlier in the season as Rhodes had just one shot all game long.

Following their disappointing loss in the Big Ten tournament, the Badgers will need Rhodes to step up if they are to match or improve upon last season’s performance in the NCAA tournament. As shown by the crucial offensive role she’s played throughout her career, much of the Badgers’ success is dependent on her ability to deliver.