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Playing the Midwest's best

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In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy reflects on UW's trip to California and looks ahead to the upcoming Midwest competition. 

After back-to-back, six game weekends in Orlando, Fla. and Fullerton, Calif., it was great to get back to Madison late Sunday night. The week has been quite an adventure, with a nine inch snow storm Monday night, burying the city. 

Our trip to California was a success, posting wins over No. 16 Stanford, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly and Cal State Bakersfield. Every team we played in California was impressive. Stanford already has 17 wins, with victories over Georgia, Florida State and Virginia. Fullerton has key wins over Missouri and UCLA, and Cal Poly has beaten Washington and Georgia.  We were really pleased with the composure and confidence that our pitchers and hitters displayed en route to those signature victories.

We switch gears the next two weekends to match up with some of the best regional competition around. We leave tomorrow for four games in Carbondale, Ill., at Southern Illinois University. We're excited to match up against SIU, UIC, Belmont and Eastern Kentucky. Growing up and playing in the Midwest, I've had the opportunity to watch SIU and UIC, have a tremendous amount of success nationally. Both teams have great softball legacies, and winning traditions.

Southern Illinois will certainly be a tough game on Saturday. It's always exciting to play the host team on their field. The Saluki's have wins this year against No. 14 South Florida and a tough Hofstra team with all-American pitching. SIU has six NCAA tournament appearances, including a sweet 16 finish.

On Sunday we'll face UIC who has 4-8 all-time record against Wisconsin. The Flames have nine NCAA tournament appearances, 12 NCAA tournament wins, and a World Series appearance.

Our goal, as a program, is to win the Big Ten, advance to the NCAA tournament and make a run in post-season play. In order to become a nationally-recognized, nationally-ranked program, it's critical that we match up and compete against the best teams in our region. Both SIU and UIC have a tremendous amount of NCAA tournament, championship experience. They both have hosted NCAA regional tournaments. This weekend will be a great test for Wisconsin, to see how we stack up against great Midwest opponents. 

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


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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. 

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. 

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.

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
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).

Getting to know the Badgers: Taylor-Paige Stewart

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Meet Badger freshman Taylor-Paige Stewart! She is from Calabasas, Calif., and attended Chaminade College Prep High School. The righty batter was a four-year letterwinner was named second-team All-Mission League Division III, and also achieved Academic Honors all four years. She earned the Coach's Award sophomore year, earned the Toshiba/BSTA Exporavision Award freshman year and was also named Female Freshman Athlete of the Year.

Stewart received the Student Athlete Award her senior year and graduated as a National Honor Society member.

Her head coach was Gina Hairepatian. She was also a letterwinner in soccer, and volunteered as a math tutor. Taylor also played for the New Zealand National Softball team and participated in the Softball World Championships in 2012.

Her parents are Joe and Rosemary Stewart. She has a younger brother, Dylan. Some of her hobbies include, watching movies, going to the beach, traveling, scrap-booking and spending time with family and friends. Her major is currently undecided.

We took some time for a little Q&A with Taylor:

Q: Who or what got you started in softball?
A: My parents signed me up when I was about six, right after one of my soccer practices and I got hooked. My mom had played softball growing up, and my dad played baseball up until college too.

Q: At what age did you start playing softball?
A: I started playing at the age of six, right when I was starting first grade.
Q: If you didn't play softball, which sport would you play?
A: I was a multi-sport athlete most of my life. I played soccer until my senior year at high school. So, if I hadn't chose softball, I would have continued to pursue soccer.

Q: What is your dream job?
A: CIA Secret Agent

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Hunger Games

Q: Who is your favorite athlete/athletic team?
A: Leah O'Brian-Amico / New Zealand All Blacks (Rugby Team)

Q: Describe your dream vacation
A: A trip to Europe and seeing a bunch of countries like Italy, Greece, France etc.

Q: What is your favorite sports/softball memory?
A: My favorite memory from softball was when I first found out I was going to be representing New Zealand in the World Series playing for their women's national team. I was able to travel to Canada, and got to start against the U.S Women's National team as a senior in high school, facing some of my softball idols I had watched on T.V.

Q: Do you have any pump up or pre-game music or rituals?
A: A ritual I have is that I visualize the game where I think I played the best I ever have, so that I'm confident going into the game. I also like listening to rap and R&B before games because it gets me pumped up and ready.

Q: What is the best part of playing softball at Wisconsin?
A: The best part of playing softball at Wisconsin is the amazing athletic atmosphere I get to be a part of. I have an incredible group of girls that I call my team, and I get to learn from coaches who really know so much about the game and how it's played.

Q: Where is your favorite spot on campus?
A: My favorite spot on campus definitely has to be where we get to study in Camp Randall. Looking out to the football field every night while doing homework, reminds me of how lucky I am to be there. I get to meet a bunch of other amazing athletes and to know we're all here representing the same school is a great feeling.
Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: I'm a sucker for anything chocolate or coffee flavored, it's definitely my weakness.

Q: What is your favorite Crayola crayon color?
A: Amethyst

Q: What TV show do you wish you could be in?
A: I don't watch much TV, but I'd have to say Friends.

Q: If you could be any person for a day, who would you be?
A: Catwoman

Q: If you were stranded on an island and could only have three items with you, what would they be?
A:  A knife, a life raft and some type of firework.

Getting to know the Badgers: Stefanni Lajeunesse

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Meet Badger freshman Stefanni Lajeunesse! She is from Los Angeles, Calif., and attended Mira Costa Manhattan Beach High School. The lefty batter was a four-year letterwinner and earned the Mustand Award, which is rewarded to four year starters. She received the Longest Ball Award, was named Most Outstanding Player and was a Scholar Athlete for four years straight.

Her head coach was Richard Amberick. She volunteered for three years with M.T.R.C. (Making the Right Connections) and also volunteered with an anti-drug, anti-gang organization educating children.

Her parents are Albert LaJeunesse and Sandra Ponce. She has a younger sister, Adriana. Her father, Albert, wrestled and was on the track and field team at the University of New Mexico for one year. Some of her hobbies include, volunteering at an inner city Catholic school in her community, spending time with her family and cooking with her tata (grandfather). Her major is currently undecided.

We took some time for a little Q&A with Stefanni:

Q: Who or what got you started in softball?
A: Baseball has always been my family's favorite sport. My grandpa loves to watch the games, and I love to do anything my grandpa loves to do. So when I was given a bat and hit the ball at such a young age, my family knew that I was a force to be reckoned with.

Q: At what age did you start playing softball?
A: I didn't start playing or even knew softball existed until I was 12. I had played baseball all my life.

Q: If you didn't play softball, which sport would you play?
A: I would definitely play soccer. Put me in as goalie and we are golden.

Q: What is your dream job?
A: My dream job is to open authentic Mexican restaurants in the Midwest and East Coast called "Las Chenchas". The goal is to bring the Mexican flavor from Los Angeles, Calif., to other parts of the United States, because I sure do miss the home cooking from Los Angeles out here.

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: I have two all-time favorite movies. A Walk to Remember, I mean who doesn't love a great Nicholas Sparks love story, and the must see classic, A League of Their Own. My favorite line is, "There's no crying in baseball!"

Q: Who is your favorite athlete/athletic team?
A: My favorite athletic team is the LA Dodgers.

Q: Describe your dream vacation
A. If I could go anywhere, I would choose to travel all over Europe and visit many historical locations from The Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, to the concentration camps in Germany and Poland.

Q: What is your favorite sports/softball memory?
A: My favorite softball memory was when I got recruited to play here. At that moment I knew that all the years of playing the sport I love had finally helped me achieve my dream of playing softball at a great Division I program.

Q: Do you have any pump up or pre-game music or rituals?
A: The first song that I have to listen to is Sail by AWOLNATION before any game. It's the perfect song to get you in game mode, and then I proceed to listen to Eminem, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and some Al Green.

Q: What is the best part of playing softball at Wisconsin?
A: The best part of playing softball at Wisconsin is the family you have here. The girls are like my sisters here and the coaching staff is amazing. The camaraderie and friendship on this team is amazing, and I am so grateful to be a part of such a great family.

Q: Where is your favorite spot on campus?
A: My favorite spot on campus would have to be Camp Randall. If I'm not at the softball field or at my dorm, you can be sure to find me studying at Camp Randall.

Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: My favorite ice cream would have to be Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey.

Q: What is your favorite Crayola crayon color?
A: My favorite color is Hot Magenta.

Q: What TV show do you wish you could be in?
A: I wish I could be on Grey's Anatomy, by far the greatest show ever created.

Q: If you could be any person for a day, who would you be?
A: I would be Madea from the Tyler Perry movies. She is such a crazy, witty person. I love it.

Q: If you were stranded on an island and could only have three items with you, what would they be?
A: I would have my 1,001 ways to survive being stranded on an island survival guide, a water bottle with a water filter in it and a picture of my family.

Getting to know the Badgers: Staci Roscizewski

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Meet Badger freshman Staci Roscizewski! She is from Racine, Wis., and attended Racine Case High School. The lefty batter was a four-year letterwinner and made first-team all-county and first-team all-conference all four years. She was also named team captain all four years. She earned honorable mention all-district during her sophomore year and honorable mention all-state during her senior year.

Staci was a recipient of the Scholar Athlete award, NAACP Herff Jones Leadership Award and the Principal's Leadership award. Her head coach was Tom Adams. She was vice president of the National Honor Society and the Key Club. She was the president of Student Government. She was a member of the Principal's Advisory Team as well as Leadership Club. She was also a letterwinner in volleyball.

Her parents are Kim and Gray Roscizewski, and she has an older sister, Jena. Her cousin, Kate Ricchio played softball at the University of Toledo-Ohio. Her cousin James Ricchio played baseball at Central Michigan University, and her cousin Jeff Ricchio played football at Wisconsin Lutheran. Her hobbies include watching movies, going to the beach and shopping. Her major is currently undecided.

We took some time for a little Q&A with Staci:

Q: Who or what got you started in softball?
A: My mom started me in softball.

Q: At what age did you start playing softball?
A: 10

Q: If you didn't play softball, which sport would you play?
A: Frisbee golf

Q: What is your dream job?
A: Coach

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Gladiator

Q: Who is your favorite athlete/athletic team?
A: Joel Stave/Green Bay Packers

Q: Describe your dream vacation
A. Ireland

Q: What is your favorite sports/softball memory?
A: Taking seventh at softball Nationals

Q: Do you have any pump up or pre-game music or rituals?
A: Tie my shoes

Q: What is the best part of playing softball at Wisconsin?
A: Hanging out with the team all of the time. It's like having another family.

Q: Where is your favorite spot on campus?
A: Camp Randall

Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: Double chocolate chocolate

Q: What is your favorite Crayola crayon color?
A: Black

Q: What TV show do you wish you could be in?
A: Wipeout

Q: If you could be any person for a day, who would you be?
A: Ashley Van Zeeland

Q: If you were stranded on an island and could only have three items with you, what would they be?
A: Tom Hanks, Wilson and Nutella.

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!