first_imgIn one of the most promising starts in program history, the University of Wisconsin softball team is hitting the ground running this year in hopes that they will finally secure their place as a top competitor in the Big Ten.The Badgers (18-14-1, 3-2-1 Big Ten) are off to one of the best starts in the history of the program, even though they just played their first home game March 30.Being on the road for two months on opposing or neutral sites meant that the Badgers couldn’t rely on their home audience. They needed to find their own momentum and that required a lot of hard work, resulting in some very hard fought games.That being said, the Badgers are still viewed as a relatively new team coming in the Big Ten. Considering teams like the University of Michigan and Ohio State have had their softball programs for around 38 years, Wisconsin’s 19-year-old program makes them newcomers in some eyes.Head coach Yvette Healy knows that having this “rookie team” status means that the Badgers need to fight for the same respect that Michigan and Ohio have earned over the years.Healy knows that her team is willing to play the big teams to help them earn their stripes.“I think this team just wants to take a swing at the big teams and see if we can get a little bit of respect out of it,” Healy said. “While softball is not only a relatively new sport within the Big Ten, it is a fairly new sport to Wisconsin itself.With the team having less than 20 seasons in Madison, Healy knows that being this new to the school means that sometimes softball gets overlooked on campus. Her goal is to get softball to be the same kind of powerhouse team that men’s basketball or football has been for the university.“Softball is not a sport here that’s been a powerhouse yet,” Healy said. “It’s not a men’s basketball that goes [to the NCAA tournament] every year or a football that’s always been in a bowl game. We’re trying to become that type of team. There’s nothing about it that’s easy, especially when you’re a warm weather sport playing in the cold and spending your first 30 games on the road. You have to work for it.”With only two NCAA tournaments under their belt, Healy knows that there is a lot of work cut out for her and her team to get to the same level as men’s basketball at UW, but this season has shown that significant progress is being made toward reaching that goal.One thing this team has going for them is that they don’t take national tournament appearances for granted. At the end of last season, when the team knew that they would not go on to the Big Ten tournament, they worked to come back even stronger this season, and Healy has taken notice.“I think they just want it,” Healy said. “The senior class especially, they’ve been to two NCAA tournaments so last year was a tough year, but they want to get the program back on track. They’re fighting for it.”And the way the players have been swinging their bats has really helped them bounce back, as it has become quite clear throughout the start of the season that this year’s Badgers have improved immensely on offense.For several games this year, the Badgers walked off the diamond with a 10-1 score, which sophomore utility player Kelsey Jenkins knows is both a combination of luck and determination.“One inning, the rails just come off and you just keep going,” Jenkins said. “Everything finds a hole and everything finds the bat. We’ve put a lot of work in this season, especially with the [quality at-bats]. It really enforces us to just really push the pedal. We work towards those and the beginning [of the winning process] comes from that.”As the season goes on, and if Wisconsin keeps putting up the numbers that they have been putting up, it is only a matter of time before the Badgers find themselves in the position they want to be in.Healy knows that one of the best motivators this team has going for them is the way last season ended.“I think they just want it,” Healy said. “This is a group that, the senior class especially, they’ve been to two NCAA tournaments. Last year was a tough year, but they want to get the program back on track. I think there’s a lot of pride that they came here trying to get Wisconsin to be a nationally ranked team.”last_img