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Getting to know the Badgers: Ashley Van Zeeland

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She was a member of the state champion team in 2010 and her high school team ranked fifth in the nation her junior year. The righty batter was named to the Wisconsin All-Star team as well as Team Wisconsin after graduation and went on to win the state championship.

She was a three-year letterwinner in volleyball and her volleyball team won the state championship her junior year and placed second during her sophomore year. Ashley was a high school teammate of Maria Van Abel. Her major is business/accounting.

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

Q: Who or what got you started in softball?
A: My parents got me involved in softball when I was really young, because I would always play softball in my backyard with my brothers.

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

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

Q: What is your dream job?
A: Professional athlete

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Benchwarmers

Q: Who is your favorite athlete/athletic team?
A: Donald Drive/Green Bay Packers

Q: Describe your dream vacation
A: Mexico with my family and cousins.

Q: What is your favorite sports/softball memory?
A: Winning the Super World Series when I was 12 years old.

Q: Do you have any pump up or pre-game music or rituals?
A: Everyone stands in a circle and they each get a chance to do a dance move.

Q: What is the best part of playing softball at Wisconsin?
A: It is a great experience overall and I love the team.

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

Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: Chocolate chip cookie dough

Q: What is your favorite Crayola crayon color?
A: Pacific blue

Q: What TV show do you wish you could be in?
A: Friends, because they always look like they are having fun and they are hilarious.

Q: If you could be any person for a day, who would you be?
A: Aaron Rodgers, because it would be amazing to be that talented, and he is a great role model.

Q: If you were stranded on an island and could only have three items with you, what would they be?
A: Matches, a tent and a laptop.

Getting to know the Badgers: Caitlyn Warren

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Meet freshman Badger Caitlyn Warren! She is from Naperville, Ill., and attended Naperville North high school. The outfielder was a four-year letterwinner and earned academic all-conference all four years. She was named all-city team her freshman, sophomore and junior year. Her sophomore and junior year she was named Daily Herald all-area honorable mention. The righty batter was named honorable mention all-state as well as DVS all-conference sophomore, junior and senior year.

The Naperville North Huskies won the regional championship during her senior year. She also earned the school record for most walks in a season and made all-area second team during her senior year. Throughout high school she volunteered for S.S. Peter and Paul Religious Education.

Her parents are Tim and Lisa Warren. She has one older brother, Alex, one younger brother, Jared, and two younger sisters, Kelsey and Chloe. She enjoys playing with her dogs. Her major is currently undecided.
We took a little time for some Q&A with Caitlyn:

Q: Who or what got you started in softball?
A: My brothers played baseball and I wanted to be like them, so my mom took me to a tryout for the Naperville Diamonds.

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

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

Q: What is your dream job?
A: Training service dogs to visit children in the hospital.

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: The Proposal

Q: Who is your favorite athlete/athletic team?
A: The Cubs

Q: Describe your dream vacation
A:.Traveling through Europe

Q: What is your favorite sports/softball memory?
A: Getting to play with my little sister, Kelsey, my last travel season.

Q: Do you have any pump up or pre-game music or rituals?
A: I listen to music super loud and I always get a good luck text from my Mom and Dad right before I warm up.

Q: What is the best part of playing softball at Wisconsin?
A: My teammates.

Q: Where is your favorite spot on campus?
A: The lakeshore path

Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: Cookies n' Cream

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

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

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

Q: If you were stranded on an island and could only have three items with you, what would they be?
A: My teddy bear, my phone and my dog, Cali.

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.

Getting to know the Badgers: Kelsey Kleist

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Meet freshman Badger Kelsey Kleist! She is from Plymouth, Minn. and attended Wayzata High School. The catcher was a four-year letterwinner and a two-time first-team all-conference selection. She made first-team all-state her junior year, was named team captain and first-team all-section her senior year, and led her team in batting average and RBI. Kelsey was also a letterwinner is basketball. She participated in marching band, mock trial, photography and Spanish club.  Her parents are Scott and RaNae Kleist and she has one younger brother, Konnor. Number 33's hobbies include photography, basketball and music and her major is undecided.  

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

Q: Who or what got you started in softball?
A: My parents signed me up for all sorts of sports as a little kid, and softball is the sport that stuck.

Q: At what age did you start playing softball?
A: I started playing at about the age of six, when I participated in t-ball, and I worked my way up to fastpitch.

Q: If you didn't play softball, which sport would you play?
A: I would definitely play basketball.

Q: What is your dream job?
A: To be a photographer for National Geographic, and travel the world taking pictures of wildlife.

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Grease, such a classic.

Q: Who is your favorite athlete/athletic team?
A: Joe Mauer from the Minnesota Twins.  He's a lefty batter and a catcher! We were meant to be!

Q: Describe your dream vacation
A: To travel with my family and my camera to the Australian outback.

Q: What is your favorite sports/softball memory?
A: Beating our high school rival at their home field, in extra innings my junior year. Such a small victory, but it was the most exciting game I've ever played in.

Q: Do you have any pump up or pre-game music or rituals?
A: No doubt, Eminem's song Lose Yourself. I thought the song was so cool in like fifth grade, and have been listening to it before every game since.

Q: What is the best part of playing softball at Wisconsin?
A: Spending time with the team! Being surrounded by such talented and fun girls has made the transition into college so much easier.

Q: Where is you favorite spot on campus?
A: My dorm! It's also nice to come back to Dejope to study, sleep and eat.

Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: Peppermint bon bon

Q: What is your favorite Crayola crayon color?
A: Red, of course!

Q: What TV show do you wish you could be in?
A: Seinfeld, the show about nothing. I would love to hangout with George, Jerry, Elaine and Kramer!

Q: If you could be any person for a day, who would you be?
A: I would want to be the President of the United States, just to hangout in the White House.

Q: If you were stranded on an island and could only have three items with you, what would they be?
A: I would bring my camera bag, (loaded with solar battery packs) a Sudoku puzzle book, and a good beach chair.

 

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. 

Believe in who you can become

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In today's Badger Blog, senior catcher Maggie Strange writes about a leadership presentation she attended, what she learned and how she can become a better leader. 

"I believe in who you can become." Brian Curtis

Four years after I began my journey as a Badger, I was given the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Brian Curtis.

Brian, a former soccer coach, writer and father, spoke to some of the student-athletes at the University of Wisconsin. The discussion started off with having to talk to a teammate for forty seconds and to compliment them, tell them positive things. 

Sounds easy right? Could you do it without using filler words, such as "um or like"?

Now, could you look a different teammate in the eyes and tell them two things they need to work on? Oh sure you could if you actually had time to sit down and think about it and really evaluate. 
 
The hardest thing to do as a teammate is to be positive; a great team has great communication. The impact of words that you use affects your coaches, your university and your team. 

Whether you are walking through an airport, down the street or even speaking to a professor, value what you say, what you wear and how you act. Keep your emotions under control. 

Brian presented us with some clips of coaches and players who let their emotions get the best of them, and yea, we all laughed and giggled about it, but Brian made sure we understood the reason that we were watching these. Emotion kills; it gets the best of you. 

One thing that our coaches really preach to our team is to be accountable, Brian said the same thing, be accountable for your emotions and your actions. Nothing is off record and everything you say, counts. 

"Do not underestimate the power of you voice, body or eyes." Brian Curtis

Be proud, sit up straight, look someone in the eyes when being spoken to, be honest. Think to yourself, did I lie today? The question that Brian asked us as a group, some raised their hands and said yes, but when asked what they lied about they couldn't answer. "You don't have to remember a lie." He said. Just be honest with yourself and who are you are talking to or it will come back to haunt you. 

As student athletes, we are placed on a pedestal. Our Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts are under a bird's eye view. Believe it or not what we post online not only reflect who we are but also is never removed from search engines, meaning coaches, employers and fans can see these things anytime they want. 

Brain gave us three rules to remember when posting things online. 

1. Would you stand in the middle of campus and scream it? 
2. Would you put it in an email to your mom and dad?
3. Would you want your future kids to read it?

He also led us through an exercise where he crumpled up a bunch of pieces of paper and threw them in a box that was taped on the floor. Two volunteers, one being myself and the other being a basketball player were then put to the test. We had to walk backwards through this minefield of paper, with people from our team leading us through it. 

As we have done in our softball practices with coach Schneider leading someone through an obstacle course with our eyes closed, I pinpointed Molly's voice and strictly listened to her through this course. The other team had many people yelling and telling my opponent where to step, etc. 

The purpose of this was to figure out whose voice matters. He mentioned that sometimes to be the best leader you have to be quiet. If you listen to too many people at once, its chaos. But, if you listen to just one person to get you through an obstacle, you will be better off. 

With this part of the presentation, he mentioned a few great leaders and coaches. Napoleon for example, would pull up a soldier and have him introduced to the platoon that was headed to war. This was simply to show his soldiers that he cared about them and therefore they would work harder. 

John Wooden was another example, he made his players practice putting their socks on correctly for two hours. 

The reason? To pay attention to the details, because the little things matter. 

You can be a quiet player and still have leadership potential. You just have to be trusted and able to trust, communicate and represent, be smart about your social media, and practice leadership exercises. 

Sometimes your best leaders aren't your best athletes. 

Intentionalism in the off-season

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In today's blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the importance of intentionalism in off-season work. 

After six weeks of fall practices and games, we're switching gears into our off-season. We were able to train with our student-athletes for 20 hours per week during the fall season. It was great getting to see our freshmen compete and see how our new faces fit in with our returning squad. 

With eight new freshmen, we spent a majority of our time identifying how each new athlete could fit into, and enhance, our current system. Unfortunately, a lot of our freshmen were injured. We had two serious concussions and a few knee and ankle problems that held a few kids back. 

Overall, we're pleased with the athletes we've added, they will certainly help us. We're even more excited about the strides that many of our returning players have made. We've seen some huge physical and athletic changes in our returners. Many have come back in great shape, after spending the summer enhancing their strengths and picking apart their weaknesses. 

We use the term "get-it" with our athletes a lot. Do they understand and value the opportunity in front of them? Are they passionately driven to succeed? Do they have a plan for success? Many student-athletes don't "get-it" right away. Some never get it until after they graduate. Our job as coaches is to expedite the "getting-it" process, so that our athletes mature and get motivated right from the start.

One key element that helps kids understand their role, and motivates them to work toward improvement, is our individual meetings. We just finished 23 individual meetings with our team this week, spending a half hour with each student-athlete reviewing how she did this fall and helping her prioritize what she needs to work on in the off-season. Communication is such a key component of success. We've had conversations with our athletes throughout the fall, pulling them into our offices if they needed guidance, direction, and wake-up calls. For most of them, the fall meetings were just an opportunity to share their insights, and make sure we're on the same page regarding what their roles are, and how to embrace those roles and become great at them.

The new buzz word of this fall has been INTENTIONALISM. If you showed up at any team meetings or practices, you probably heard the word INTENTIONALISM one hundred times. In athletics, we use the word intentionalism to make sure that we have quality practices. We challenge our athletes to know themselves and use each practice as an opportunity to get better at a specific skill. It's quality over quantity. It's practice with a purpose. We make sure they're not just punching a time clock and taking 50 mindless swings, but actually working to improve certain mechanical aspects of their swing with each cut. Intentionalism is the difference between just taking 100 ground balls or taking 100 ground balls and improving angle steps, short hops, back hands, footwork or glove work with each rep. The book "Talent is overrated" talks a lot of intentional practice for elite athletes.

Our staff has taken intentionalism to a different level. On a personal/motivational level, intentionalism helps us fight through the grind. We're entering "the grind" phase of the season. We'll lift and condition five days a week. We will spend a lot of time on the seemingly meaningless, detailed parts of the game. We'll put huge amounts of time and effort into the least glamorous parts of softball. Staying motivated and energized this time of year can be tough. We've challenged our team to be intentional with their workouts. Each time you sprint, it's not just about getting faster; it's an act of sacrifice for your team. Each time you study, it's not just about being smarter, it's a way to help the team achieve their goals by staying focused, staying eligible and eliminating distractions. Each extra cut off the tee if for the greater good of the team. It's about preparing yourself to help the team achieve their goals. This selflessness is noble, it's critical. We can serve our teammates and our university by putting in the extra time and effort to become the best athletes and students we can be. That is true leadership and appreciation in action.

Happy October!

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In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the fall, Badger Olympics and the hard work everyone is putting in on and off the field.

Happy October! The fall is flying by here in Madison. The trees are changing colors and we've already played six of our eight fall games. We're 6-0 so far, pitching one perfect game, and one no-hitter. Even with all 23 student-athletes on our squad earning playing time this fall, we're hitting almost .400 as a team. It's hard to believe that we only have two weeks left to practice. We've taken a creative approach with our team this fall. With eight new freshmen, our staff has placed a priority on leadership and competition. We're fostering leadership through team chalk-talks, weekly meetings, senior goals and constant communication. Our staff has really enjoyed getting to know each of our student-athletes better, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and coming up with individualized plans to help maximize each athlete's potential.

The most exciting part to witness this fall is the infusion of competition. Coach Schneider created a Badger Olympics program to reinforce that competitive spirit every day. It's been fun and insightful seeing the old and new players battle it out on the "tough mudder" obstacle course, push-up challenge, juggling, distance throw and speed tests. The intensity at practice has really improved with the addition of more softball challenge drills.

This spring season will certainly test our mental toughness as a program. After finishing the past two years with a 77 and 52 RPI, and back-to-back 30 win seasons, we're pleased to have the program moving in the right direction. Yet we'll have to make another leap this year to steal a few top 25 wins, contend for a Big Ten championship and compete in the NCAA tournament. We amped up our schedule to face more ranked teams earlier in the season. With ten weekends on the road this spring, we'll need every bit of leadership and competitive training to succeed.    

Wear the 'W' with pride

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Join sophomore Maria Van Abel as she talks about the first week of chalk talks in today's Badger Blog.

After a year of being a student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin under my belt, I was anxious to get back on campus. I was happy to spend a couple of months at home in Kaukauna with my family and friends, and then it was back to the beautiful city of Madison. We jumped right into things with our chalk talk meetings the first week of school and got a chance to look at and prepare for the year ahead. 

With a room full of excited teammates and friends who had been separated for what seemed like forever, coach Healy officially kicked of the new academic and athletic year. I believe it is so important to be reminded of the incredible opportunity that all of us student-athletes have here at Wisconsin, and our coaching staff does a great job of doing just that. Between the prestigious level of academics, quality of athletic facilities and staff, and the overall experience we obtain here, it would be difficult to undermine the opportunity we have all been blessed with. As coach Alvarez says, "wear the 'W' with pride." 

This brings us to one of the key points Coach Healy touched on- "appreciate what you are given and be passionate about what you do." As a team, appreciation and passion are necessary building blocks for reaching our goal of becoming a championship program. Of course, this can only come through hard work. This was the second of three things coach emphasized throughout the meeting. This combination of qualities can help any team develop and achieve success. 

The last of the three points coach reflected on happens to be one of the most focused on points in our program- "be a family." Leaving home and taking on the challenge of being a Divison I student-athlete is no easy task; however, with the relentless support given to each individual on our softball team by our coaching staff and faculty, the constant reinforcement of 'family' makes the transition one of ease. This family atmosphere creates something more than just a softball team that we will play on for four years; but more importantly, it is a constant and continual support system surrounding us during our time at Wisconsin. Between balancing academics, athletics, and everything else that college may throw at us, having a group of girls and coaches who genuinely care for one another makes this task achievable. 

The senior class also gave their presentation this same day which reiterated this concept. Each of the seven seniors spoke about different ways to use the all of the different resources we are given here at UW to be as successful as possible. Between academics, athletics, time management skills and ways to get involved, the seniors did a great job of making all of us aware of the resources and people that are available to help us through our years in Madison. It was a great way to start of the year, and we are excited to see what the year has in store for Badger softball!

ON WISCONSIN