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California bound

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In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the start of the season and the trip to California. 

The snow is falling in Madison as we prepare to head west for spring trip number three, this weekend in Fullerton, Calif. It's been a great start to the season, going 10-1 our first two weekends out. Eight of our last nine games have been against teams that played in the 2012 NCAA tournament, which makes the early wins even more meaningful. We stress the importance of taking it one game at a time, but it's hard to deny that most of our team has been looking forward to this particular weekend in California and these high profile teams. 

We'll open up against the host team, Cal State Fullerton on Thursday. They have a lot of excitement surrounding their program right now, with a few ranked wins, a beautiful stadium and a new head coach. Fullerton just beat No. 6 Missouri and No. 10 UCLA this week, which makes them one of the hot teams in softball right now, especially at home. We'll also battle Pac 12 rivals, No. 8 Cal, and No. 16 Stanford. 

With a short turn-around from last weekend, this trip will certainly be a test of toughness. When you face great California teams in California, you're the double underdog.  Our staff is excited to see how we match up with the best teams in the country right now. The spring schedule is created to help identify your weaknesses, and provide feedback for where you need to improve. Our goal this weekend is to get smarter, savvier and little bit better with each challenging game we face. If we can stay focused, fired up and scrappy this weekend, we just might surprise a few people.

Tenacity early on

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In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the importance of quality over quantity in the Badgers' quest to qualify for the NCAA tournament. 

What an exciting opening weekend in North Carolina. It's always fun to go 4-1 any weekend. In a 50 game season, every win counts. Yet after posting back-to-back 30 win seasons here at Wisconsin -- and setting records for the most wins in school history last year with 34 and most wins in Big Ten play with 13 -- we understand that there's more to earning a post-season bid than just victories. It's about signature wins. Great teams have an outstanding winning percentage, but they also have wins against the NCAA tournament field. You have to steal a few victories every year from teams that are ranked, teams that are receiving votes, and teams that are perennial powerhouses who compete in the NCAA tournament year-in and year-out.

We've been stressing the importance of quality over quantity this year with the Badger softball team. While winning is always fun, our goal as a program is to compete in the NCAA tournament, make a run deep into the NCAA's and compete for a Big Ten championship. With lofty goals like that, you have to challenge your team on your spring trips. You have to play more top 25 teams, and give your team a chance to steal a few signature wins.

After watching the Badger softball team compete opening weekend, we know we have a lot of work to do. We have lists of things we can improve on as a ball club. The fact is, we're going to be the underdog in a lot of our games this spring. On paper, we're over-matched by a lot of our opponents. For the next four weeks, we're going to face numerous All-American, All-Region, and first team All-Conference pitchers and hitters. We'll go toe-to-toe with athletes who are the players of the year in their conferences. Yet if you want to become a perennial NCAA tournament team, you have to face those ball clubs and strategize how to hang with them. Our goal is to create a game plan that puts our team in a position to win late in the game. If we can keep it close, this team has the grit, heart and desire to make amazing things happen late in game. 

Below is a link to video highlights from Sunday's 11 inning, 6-5 win over Notre Dame. It's no wonder Notre Dame's pitcher, Laura Winter, was named All-Region the last two years and 2012 Big East pitcher of the year. She pitched two incredible games against us last weekend, surrendering only one hit over the first seven innings on Sunday.  We're so proud of team for showing confidence and composure in extra inning play against a legacy program like Notre Dame.

Notre Dame highlights: http://youtu.be/6CqtSRJvlOc

Preparation-Approach-Response

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In today's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes to the team about preparation, approach and response. 

As we get ready for our first trip of the 2013, I want to challenge this group to get in the right frame of mind. What do championship programs have in common? They prepare for games, approach games and respond in games like champions. 

PREPARATION: 
We've spent the first half of this year in preparation mode. We challenged you to work hard in fall ball. You've had more days practicing outside on the dirt than ever before, taking grounders on the field into December. You survived two-a-days our first week back. You've lifted and ran like champions all winter long. We have one of the best strength, conditioning and nutrition programs in the country, and you are physically strong and prepared. You're smarter and savvier than ever before due to our chalk talks, situation practices, live base-running and IQ sessions. As you spend these last few days reviewing our scouting reports, know and believe that you are prepared to succeed this weekend. 

APPROACH: 
All the thought, homework and preparation in the world can't help you, if you don't walk into the games with a winning mentality. Preparation is important, but when you arrive at opening weekend, focus determination and a championship mindset will win you games. Do you have something to prove this year? I hope thoughts of Nebraska are still fresh in your mind. I hope selection show Sunday at Buffalo Wild Wings seems like yesterday. Are you on a mission this year?  Are you ready for your first business trip of the year? Our goal is to win the Big Ten. Our goal is compete in the NCAA tournament. Our goal is play in a super regional. The mission of this squad is to create a foundation of excellence for Wisconsin softball, to put us on the map as a perennial national powerhouse, and build a legacy of success. No one is going to hand it to us. You have to brave enough to go take it. Notre Dame has played in 16-consecutive NCAA tournaments. That's a legacy.

RESPONSE:
The final key to success is a character goal. How you respond to adversity is the single most important lesson that you'll learn through sports. It really isn't about winning or losing. It's not about strikeouts and home runs; it's what you do next that counts. How you respond to a bad call, to an error, to strikeouts and home runs will define you. What kind of teammate are you? What kind of leader are you? What kind of softball program are we? If we embrace adversity, and are truly excited about the challenges that lie ahead with this tough softball schedule, we'll become the type of athletes and the type of team that can win the Big Ten and compete in the NCAA's on an annual basis.

National Girls & Women in Sport Day

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In today's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes a letter to the team about the importance of being a role model as a female in athletics. 

Dear Team,
Today is National Girls & Women in Sports Day. This may seem insignificant to you now, but hopefully in years to come the opportunities afforded to you here at Wisconsin will sink in. We are all blessed to be at an amazing university that supports women's athletics at the highest level.

Just look at the money and resources dedicated to all of our student-athletes with the new Student-Athlete Performance Center, weight room, academic advising center and locker rooms. Next think about the resources dedicated to Wisconsin's women's sports, from the new multi-million dollar indoor softball facility and video analysis programs, to the LaBahn Arena for women's hockey, and the new indoor driving range for golf at University Ridge. 

Yet, there is still a huge gap in equality. Think about girl's youth sports, high school sports and inter-collegiate athletics. Funding, resources and facilities are a huge challenge for most female teams. Still the greatest need in women's sports right now is role models. 

We need even more strong, motivated, talented, high-achieving young women to step in and share their talents with other young girls. You are the ambassadors for our sport. You are competing at the highest level. Girls everywhere need you to share your story, your knowledge and your gifts. Please take a moment today to drop a card or email to one of your former teams or coaches. Share your story with other young athletes, regarding what playing sports has meant to you. 

For me, playing softball at Providence Catholic High School was one of the most influential experiences in my life. We learned the value of hard work; shoveling snow off our field, raking it, pulling the drag around the infield by hand, rolling the outfield, painting the equipment shed and lugging bags of diamond dry to try to get in one more game over spring break. We learned discipline and sacrifice, waking up early for lifting, conditioning and open gym before school started at 7:30. 

We were blessed to play for a coach, who was passionate and driven. Every day he pushed us, made us laugh and challenged us to play hard. We learned how to lead, playing with a diverse group of athletes, some who competed year-round, and others who were happy just to play for one year in high school. Time management was critical, balancing a rigorous academic schedule with long bus trips and double-headers. Yet what stood out most were the teammates, teachers and coaches who took the time to talk, teach, support and challenge us. 

- Coach Healy

Badgers' schedule full of tough competition

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As the snow melts and temperatures warm up, it is time to start thinking softball. The Badgers' first pitch of the 2013 season is on Feb. 8 and the season can't come soon enough. 2013 is bound to be a year full of tough tests, but the reward at the end of the season -- an NCAA regional bid -- will be worth the hard work. 

Wisconsin is set to play one of the toughest schedules in program history, squaring off with six teams ranked or receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Preseason Poll, released Jan. 22, with the potential to face more at the Diamond 9 Tournament and in the Big Ten tournament. 

The season starts with a trip to UNC-Charlotte where UW is set to play Notre Dame twice. The Fighting Irish received 43 votes in the poll, making them 26th on the list. Notre Dame, a 40-game winner in 2012, fell to Arizona in the final of the 2012 NCAA Tucson Regional. 

Wisconsin's trip to Orlando from Feb. 22-24 holds the potential of another top-25 opponent. The tournament schedule won't be released until the end of January, but a year ago UW played Florida State, ranked No. 25 in the preseason poll, twice.

A trip west to California features the Badgers' toughest test of the early season. At the Easton Invitational, UW is scheduled to play No. 21 Stanford and No. 3 California. Cal, the No. 1-ranked team in the 2012 regional field, saw its season end against Alabama at the College World Series. The Crimson Tide went on to defeat Oklahoma and earn its first College World Series title. 

At the Louisville Tournament in March, the Badgers are scheduled to play No. 22 North Carolina and No. 18 Louisville. Both teams were regional qualifiers in 2012, with the Tar Heels falling to Georgia in a regional final and the Cardinals losing to Michigan, also in a regional final. 

The Big Ten season doesn't get any easier for the Badgers. UW will host Northwestern, a vote getter, at Goodman Diamond on March 27, and the return of the Big Ten tournament leaves the door open for a game against No. 15 Michigan. 

A year ago, Wisconsin won a school-record 34 games -- an outstanding mark for the Badgers -- but did not receive one of the elusive bids to the regional tournament. This year, a tough schedule against ranked opponents will help Wisconsin build a resume worthy of a bid. 
 
USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Preseason Poll
Rk   Team
1 Alabama 
2 Oklahoma 
3 California 
4 Arizona State
5 Oregon
6 Tennessee
7 Texas
8 Missouri
9 Georgia
10 LSU
11 Louisiana Lafayette
12 USF
13 Arizona
14 Florida
15 Michigan
16 Washington
17 Texas A&M
18 Louisville
19 UCLA
20 Hofstra
21 Stanford
22 North Carolina
23 Hawai'i
24 Baylor
25 Florida State
 
Others Receiving Votes:  Notre Dame (43), Georgia Tech (29), Syracuse (27), Kentucky (23), Oregon State (22), Texas Tech (12), Virginia Tech (11), DePaul (10), Northwestern (5), BYU (4), Houston (3), Tulsa (2), Mississippi State (2), Illinois State (2), South Alabama (2).

A very happy holiday

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In this week's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the excitement surrounding the holiday season. 

I hope you're having a great holiday season. There's a lot of excitement in the air between snow, the Rose Bowl, awards and engagements. 

We got our first snow last night in Madison. My daughter Grace had her snow pants over her footie pajamas before we even had our morning coffee. She wanted to sneak a little play time in the snow before church.

I'm sure you've heard that Wisconsin has made the Rose Bowl for the third-straight year. Our athletic director, Barry Alvarez, is coaching the game. It should be an amazing experience for our student-athletes and fans. Shawn, Grace, Maeve and I are all making the trip to California for the game. We're spending the week in the sun, visiting friends and sight-seeing.

Senior football star Montee Ball had a big week of awards for the Badgers too. The Wisconsin senior was named the best running back in college football Thursday when he was presented with the Doak Walker Award during The Home Depot College Football Awards at Walt Disney World. He also was named to the Walter Camp All-America team for the second-consecutive season.

Ball finished ahead of fellow Doak Walker finalists Kenjon Barner of Oregon and Johnathan Franklin of UCLA for the honor, which has been presented to the nation's most outstanding running back each year since 1989.

Ball is the NCAA's all-time leader in touchdowns with 82 and also holds the NCAA career record for rushing touchdowns with 76. He ranks in a tie for fourth all-time among Big Ten players with 5,040 career rushing yards and became the 17th player in FBS history to surpass 5,000 yards.

Still, coach Adix had the most exciting week. She and Ryan got engaged Thursday night!! You'll have to chat with her to get more details. We're so thrilled to grow the Badger softball family. What a fun year this will be for our staff and student-athletes as we get to watch and witness all the excitement surrounding Tracie's upcoming wedding.

Happy Holidays!

Four C's: Character, commitment, confidence and composure

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Head coach Yvette Healy writes about celebrating Thanksgiving and the four C's of leadership in this week's Badger Blog. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. There was a lot of cooking in the Healy house the last few weeks. We had the team over for a party a week ago. My husband Shawn and I had fun cooking beef sandwiches and baked pasta for the team and our staff. My four year old daughter Grace got to choose dessert, so we made waffle cone sundae's with the team. 

We had a house full of friends come up for the Ohio State football game right after that. It was our second tough overtime game this fall. 

Then we hosted Thanksgiving with my family in Madison. Grace and I made a few homemade apple pies and gingerbread cake pops ... both super messy, but fun. Shawn grilled a Cajun turkey outside and I did a turkey and stuffing in the oven. It was sunny and 60 all week for Thanksgiving. We had a blast playing football in the backyard while we cooked. I even got the iPad out and videotaped my nieces and nephews swings with our new Dartfish video analysis app.

We spend the rest of the weekend watching sports, and getting ready for the Holidays. We even did Christmas cookies with Santa on Sunday. We got a great photo with Santa and our daughters Maeve, who's five months old already, and Grace, who's four years old.

We leave this week for our NFCA coach's convention in Orlando, Fla. We're all looking forward to getting some new ideas and drills while finding time to catch up and connect with friends and mentors. Next week will be our last week to workout with our team before they start to prepare for finals, and then its Christmas break. 

We had a short chalk talk on leadership yesterday. Jeff Jansen has a ton of great information that we use on team leadership. Wisconsin softball has made great strides the last few years regarding team commitment. I see our athletes dedicating themselves to the team and working extremely hard, especially in the weight room. We're stronger and more fit than ever before. Working hard is a great first step in developing leadership. We spent yesterday talking about the next big stride we need to make internally. 

Jeff Jansen talks about the four C's of leadership; Character, Commitment, Confidence and Composure.

We have amazing young women here at the University of Wisconsin. Their character is so impressive, as evidenced by all of the community service and outreach that our student-athletes do. Our commitment to hard work has gone up exponentially too. 

Now the jump we need to see revolves around confidence and composure. Our squad has been young the last few years, and we've gone through some growing pains. With age and experience, needs to come more confidence and composure. We challenged our squad to focus on accountability and ownership yesterday. 

This season could be a memorable one for the entire Badger softball family if we can translate our character and commitment into confidence and composure as we battle adversity and injuries, face a tough schedule and fight for a Big Ten championship! 

Starting a new tradition

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In today's Badger Blog, senior Kelsey Horton talks about starting a new tradition of volunteering at UW and what participating in the Gilda's Club Run/Walk meant to her. 

As the my fellow seniors and I filed into coach Healy's office before the start of what would be our last fall semester as Badger softball players, we were asked how we wanted to be remembered. 

We knew what steps needed to be taken on the field to achieve the goals we set out for ourselves but we also looked outside the lines. We wanted to start a new tradition that would stick with this program even after we were long gone. Volunteering and charity work has been a staple within UW softball and something we love committing our time to off the field. 

After discussing our options with our coaches we decided that Gilda's Club was a good place to begin a new year of volunteer work. Gilda's Club was named as a tribute to Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer in 1989 and is a community support program for people living with cancer, their families and friends. The Gilda's Club here in Madison holds a fundraising 5k walk/run and 10k which has grown tremendously since they first started the event five years ago.

On October 21, we worked as course marshals to encourage the participants, assisted in the lunch provided after the race was over and also helped supervise the kids' bouncy house and play area. 

The volunteers were given a brief history describing how Gilda Radner's husband, Gene Wilder, and her cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull, founded the club as a means of providing meeting places where men, women and children living with cancer and their families and friends join with others to build emotional and social support as a supplement to their medical care. 

This nonprofit organization has helped over 1,400 people in 14 counties in southwest Wisconsin. The volunteers also received a tour of the facilities which included amenities like a recreation room, kids play room, full kitchen and lounge areas where members can relax. As the morning progressed, it was off to work and everyone assumed their positions for the start of the race. 

A few Badgers signed up to run the race including Stephanie Peace and Cassandra Darrah. The participants stood at the start line and were able to hear stories from a few cancer survivors whose families had joined Gilda's Club. They described how a teenage son, who at first felt like he had no one to talk to about the devastating news of his mother's diagnosis, found a support group who welcomed him with open arms. This along, with many other stories, fueled the runners as they took off from the start line and remained present in their minds throughout the race. 

The experience stuck with our Badger volunteers but hit home especially for Mary Massei who is a thyroid cancer survivor. While speaking with Mary after the race, she said that she had not expected her time spent volunteering to be emotional but after hearing the history and stories from survivors like her, she wishes she had also found a support group like those at Gilda's Club. 
Her family and friends were there for her throughout her whole battle which was not an easy task; the people at Gilda's provide a welcoming environment away from the emotionally charged health care setting where people can simply be themselves. During the tour of the club, Mary was browsing the library and found a book that piqued her interest. She describes it as a guide to dealing with the memory of enduring cancer and treatment even after it is all over. Mary has been cancer free for one year and four months, but says there is still so much to work on within herself. 

Mary volunteered as a course marshal and felt the impact of what Gilda's Run was all about as the participants ran by. Our course marshals directed the runners with no idea of whether the people running by were survivors, friends of survivors, or people who had simply heard about the race. 

It all just puts it in perspective, the resilience and determination people have within themselves. We are so thankful to have heard the inspiring stories of so many strong people and to have witnessed so much generosity. We are honored to have been a part of raising over $50,000 from over 1,000 volunteers and participants for this remarkable organization. 
This is the start of a new tradition for the Badger softball team.

A week of giving

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In this today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the value of giving back.

Last week the Badger softball team kicked off our off-season with a week of volunteer activities. After practicing 20 hours a week for the first few months of the fall, we've dropped down to eight hours of organized workouts, with six hours of team lifting and conditioning, and two hours of individual skill instruction.

While most teams in the country would be looking forward to more free-time and less team activities, the Badgers chose a different approach. The women's softball team here at Wisconsin decided to plan a week of volunteer activities in the community to show their appreciation for the amazing opportunities and gifts that they receive as student-athletes in the Big Ten. Gratitude and appreciation are key ingredients for happy, fulfilled lives. Perspective and maturity are tough lessons to teach college students.

Our staff has said many times what a special environment we have here at Wisconsin. Although we are a nationally-ranked academic University, with amazing athletics, it's the Midwest values that truly stand out. People at Wisconsin care about each other. This is a school where young people learn how to sacrifice, give-back and share their talents for the greater good. Our athletic department is filled with amazing, well-rounded, impressive young people who care about their community, their families and their teammates.

Our focus in the Wisconsin women's softball program is empowerment. Our goal is to help our young women become leaders on the field, in the classroom, and in their communities. We challenge them to be outstanding, well-rounded young women. We've asked our women's softball team to contribute to our blog this year, writing about activities and events that touch their lives.

Below is a snapshot of what the Badger Softball week of giving looked like:

SUNDAY: Gilda's House-Charity Run

TUESDAY: Leadership seminar with Brian Curtis

TUESDAY: Madison Children's Hospital

THURSDAY: Coach Bo Ryan's Charity Stripe Challenge-Coaches vs. Cancer

THURSDAY: Booking it with Bucky-Reading to local kids

FRIDAY: Kids Day at the Kohl Center-Free kids clinics and autographs

Finding Inspiration

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In today's Badger Blog, freshman Staci Roscizewski talks about the experience of visiting the UW Children's Hospital, what she learned and how it inspired her. 

As an incoming freshman on the Wisconsin softball team, I was prepared to grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. I expected to push my limits in the weight room, on the field, and in the classroom. However, one part of being a Badger student-athlete I did not expect was the amazing volunteer opportunities. As a team, I am proud to say that we participate in many volunteer activities on campus and in the Madison community. Personally, one of the most fulfilling activities was visiting the UW Children's Hospital. 
While at the children's hospital, groups of four Badgers went from room to room making casual conversations with patients and their families. Some kids could not wait to tell us about how excited they were to be Aaron Rodgers for Halloween, while others just wanted us to be quiet so they could watch Monsters Inc. Each child had their own way of coping with the stress of what they were going through. It is hard to truly understand what they are experiencing, given not many of us have been in similar situations. The UW softball team felt like anything to make one child's day a little better would be worth the visit. Sometimes, four Badgers could put a smile on a little boy or girl's face. Believe it or not, a single smile from patients would brighten our day more than their own. 
Each child really made me put my own life into perspective. Sometimes when school or softball is stressful and seems unmanageable, I often think about the visit to the children's hospital. The stress and complications of my life does not compare to those of the children in the hospital. I am sure the children we visited would love to have our stresses rather than their own. I will forever have the images of the children we visited in my head when I want to complain about waking up early or writing a paper, because in reality, those are privileges that few of us are fortunate to have. Seeing first hand how such small children can be so strong is truly an inspiration and serve as a constant reminder of just how fortunate we are. Making a visit to the children's hospital was one of the must humbling experiences I have ever had. 
One reoccurring theme throughout the visit that I noticed was lots of family and love. In almost every single room, there were family members there to support their loved ones. Patients' families really appreciated the time that the softball team was spending with their loved ones and made the visit even more worthwhile. Seeing the involvement by not only family members, but also the caring hospital staff was incredible. As soon as we walked in, we all immediately noticed how welcoming and surprisingly cheery the atmosphere was for a hospital. 
As a team, I believe that we benefited from this experience. The unbelievable feeling of happiness was overwhelming when we were able to make a child's day easier. Seeing the unfortunate circumstances of so many beautiful children made us realize how blessed we are to be able to represent the University of Wisconsin as student-athletes. 

After the visit, we collectively decided that more visits were soon to come. Making similar visits to the hospital is something that will create a strong bond within the team that is hard to find among 23 young women. More importantly, it gives hope to children that desperately need someone to put that little smile on their face. I often think about how the children in the hospital look up to the Badgers and idolize our accomplishments, but little do they know it is the Badgers that find inspiration in them. 

ON WISCONSIN