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Success is not a destination, it's a journey

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In this week's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the journey towards being a champion.

Success, like happiness, is not a destination. It's a journey, a path you choose, a way of life. I am so proud of our Badger softball family. We are on the path of improvement right now, and enjoying the journey as we work to build a championship program.

After being at Wisconsin for one and a half years, a lot of people ask what's so special about Madison and what makes the Badger athletic department great. It truly is a family atmosphere and a winning culture. For our Badger softball team, culture has been the number one thing that we've been working to build, nurture and sustain.

For our staff, creating a championship culture is about empowerment. When teams and student-athletes struggle on the field, in the classroom and in their lives, there's an overwhelming feeling that life, circumstances and situations are out of our control. Somehow things aren't fair, and they'll never change. This negativity breeds negativity, ultimately demotivating, and creating a culture of apathy. No one works hard, there are lots of excuses, and the cycle of failure propels itself.

Our softball team is 11-4 in conference right now, in second place behind Michigan. That ties us for the most Big Ten wins in the history of the program, with three tough weekends left to play. Our 27-13 record makes us a top 50 team, out of nearly 300 D1 softball programs in the country. With six athletes hitting over .300, there's a lot to be excited about. Yet what we're most proud of with this group is the culture of pride and accountability they're working to create.

One of the most gratifying things that any of us can do in a lifetime is to create something new and special. Many people have played in successful programs, and lived prosperous lives with great relationships. Yet what's truly special, is when a group of young women come together to change history. It takes an incredible amount of work, passion, resilience, and belief to create something that hasn't always been there. When student-athletes can overcome obstacles and adversity to succeed, and become the athletes and people they always dreamed of, that is life-changing. True empowerment for our young women is experiencing the invaluable life-lesson that anything is possible. If your situation is bad; in sports, in school, or in life, you have the ability to work to create a new reality. They can change their attitudes, approach, and work-ethic to build a better life.

What makes this journey even more special is the caliber of people, and quality of character in our program. After sweeping Penn State yesterday in front of a record crowd of 1,000 fans, our softball staff and student-athletes volunteered their time to coach and mentor 70 young softball players in a Kids Clinic at our stadium.  That type of service leadership in the community is heart-warming. Even after the clinic ended, our athletes stayed to sign autographs and eat pizza with the young softball players and their families.

Kid's Clinic Photo Gallery

We have a lot of season left as we enter the home stretch of 2012. Six of our nine remaining Big Ten games are on the road, and we'll play the top three teams these last three weekends as we travel to Purdue and Nebraska, and host nationally-ranked Michigan. We also have five huge non-conference games at home during the next few weeks. It's fun to be on the path and in the hunt. We have a lot of work to do as a team, to become a championship program. Yet, right now, our staff has a tremendous amount of pride as we look at how hard this group is working together to improve every day

Another big weekend for the Badgers

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In today's blog, Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy writes about the Badgers' big weekend at Illinois and the importance of beating Penn State this weekend.

What a great weekend for the Badger softball family! We went down to Illinois and won the series, beating the Illini, 8-0, on Saturday night, on the Big Ten Network. That was our 9th win in a row, which set the new Wisconsin softball record for most wins in a row. Our win on Sunday raised our record to 24-13, helping us climb into a tie for third in the Big Ten, and ranking us 53rd in the RPI, out of nearly 300 D1 teams!

Sunday's games were crazy, as we battled 20 mph winds all day. Sophomore Mary Massei brought everyone to their feet as she belted an amazing three home runs in the same game! Our team had a total of six home runs in that game with sophomore Stephanie Peace, junior Shannel Blackshear and sophomore Michelle Mueller all going yard.

We have a huge home weekend ahead as we prepare for three games against Penn State. The Nittany Lions made the NCAA tournament last year, and have big ranked wins over No. 19 Auburn and No. 22 LSU earlier this year. Their catcher, Kasie Hatfield, was just named Big Ten Player of the Week helping Penn State to win five of its last six conference games. In our all-time records, PSU has won 25-of-32 games against the Badgers, including a two-game sweep last season. Our team is hungry to prove how far we've come as a program, and how much we've improved.

Our staff is really enjoying the passion and pride our team is bringing to the field each day. It's fun to see our athletes work hard, grow, improve, and achieve small goals throughout the season. This weekend will be a huge test for our young squad to see just how close we are to becoming an NCAA tournament team. We're excited to see who steps up and takes charge as we play in front of our friends and families this weekend in Madison!

What a week!

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In today's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the great week the Badgers had.

What a great week for Badger softball. After going 6-0 over spring break, including a weekend sweep of Minnesota , Wisconsin is 20-12 overall, and 6-3 in the Big Ten. We're in fourth place in conference, with Michigan, Nebraska and Purdue ahead of us. Sophomore pitcher Cassandra Darrah earned Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week honors, while sophomore shortstop Stephanie Peace was named Big Ten Player of the Week. 

Complete release on UWBadgers.com

We are so proud of the tenacity and fight our team is showing right now. We've won eight of our last 10 games, and we have a big week ahead. We'll face Western Illinois for a doubleheader at home on Tuesday. Western Illinois is in first place in the Summit League, posting a big win this season against Kentucky, who knocked off Michigan last year in the NCAA tournament to earn a Sweet 16, Super-Regional bid. We'll travel to Champaign, Ill., this weekend for a huge three-game series against Illinois. Saturday's doubleheader will be broadcast live on the Big Ten network, starting at 4 p.m. The series finale is Sunday, April 15, at 1 p.m. 

Play the best to be the best

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the Badgers' tough weekend against Northwestern.

It's always hard to lose any weekend series. If you're like me, you replayed the games over a thousand times in your head, after watching the actual game and highlights on film. You probably thought of 100 things we could have done better to squeak out just one more win, especially in the extra inning game when we had the bases loaded with one out and just need one more run to end the game. Our job as your staff is to keep things in perspective, to continue to improve every game, and to teach every player how to reach and exceed her potential.

So far in Big Ten play we've faced two very good teams that have legacy programs and we're 3-3. We scored 22 runs this weekend and Northwestern scored 21 against us. Last weekend we scored eight runs and Iowa scored eight. Iowa has been to the World Series four times, and Northwestern has been there five times, add that to 30+ NCAA tournament appearances those schools have combined, and you know you're facing great programs with histories of winning success. We are building that history and legacy here at Wisconsin, and I am so proud to work with these coaches and this group of student-athletes on our current team to get there together.

The great part about playing programs like Northwestern with multiple All-American hitters is that we all get to see and experience what the best looks like. I know our lead-off hitters and power hitters aspire to be the best in country, and what better way to become the best, than to play the best.

As for our pitchers, our coaching staff understands that we're young and we are dedicated to improvement. We knew that Northwestern averages five + runs a game, even playing one of the toughest schedules. We knew we would be in for grinding out some high scoring games, but it always feels different when you're actually experiencing it.

We will continue to put a tremendous amount of time against researching our opponents to prepare a great game plan. We will keep communicating the keys to beating other programs. Our workouts will be built around executing our pitches and executing the game plan. We can be successful this year if we keep getting better every outing.

Obviously we wanted to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park this weekend, giving up three home runs that accounted for 10 of Northwestern' s 22 runs. The interesting thing about that stat is that we could actually handle giving up the three runs if those were all solo shots. It's when we walk and hit batters at the bottom of the lineup that kills us. Then we have to face the best All-American hitters with multiple runners on. That adds more pressure, and if the bases are loaded, we can't pitch around those big bats. I think Northwestern' s number eight hitter was its MVP this weekend. In our two losses, she was on base 7-of-8 times, with four hits, two walks, one hit-by-pitch, a stolen base and five runs scored.

Let's get excited about spring break. It's coming at the perfect time. Let's pull together and get a little winning momentum. We are all looking forward to a break from Big Ten play, and classes, and the opportunity to play great on the road.



A great start

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the Badgers' good start at Iowa.

What a great start to Big Ten play. The Wisconsin softball team is thrilled to open the season taking 2-of-3 at Iowa. Iowa is such a legacy program with four trips to the World Series and 16 NCAA appearances. We knew we would have our hands full facing them on the road for our first Big Ten games of 2012.

Entering last season, Iowa was 28-7 all-time against the Badgers. We're fortunate to have swept them last year, posting a 4-1 record against the Hawkeyes these last two seasons. Iowa native, sophomore Cassandra Darrah pitched all three games for us, holding Iowa to just two hits in the first game of the series.

After 23 games on the road, we're thrilled to host our home-opener this weekend against Northwestern. We have a doubleheader on Saturday at noon and 2, and our game on Sunday will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network at 2 p.m. Northwestern also has a rich winning tradition, with three Sweet 16 finishes and a second-place World Series appearance in 2007.

There are some great highlights from our games at Iowa on the Big Ten Network's homepage too. You can find them on UWBadgers.com. BTN is rebroadcasting one of our 2012 Iowa games today, March 28, at 3 p.m. CT on the Big Ten Network's cable channel.

Video Highlights: Wisconsin at Iowa

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The need for leadership

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the need for leadership and building a legacy at Wisconsin

Watching the team play yesterday, and how bad we were, it's easy to see how Wisconsin softball struggled in the past. We played like the 177 RPI team we were in 2010. What we've achieved in the last 1.5 years -- winning 30 games last season, sitting 11-8 right now after facing several ranked teams, is special. Culture is not easily changed, and losing ways and bad old habits die hard. Like any progress, it's not a straight, linear path. Sometimes it's two steps forward and one step back. You have to appreciate the climb, and celebrate the small victories and minor improvements.

 As a team and coaching staff, you can't panic when things fall apart, but rather focus on solutions and improvements. It's easy to get angry and point fingers when we fail. Yet the best programs and coaches stay constructive with their criticism and approach, focusing on teachable moments and opportunities for growth rather than sulking and dwelling on what's broke. Things can get ugly and go downhill fast when adversity strikes.

The main thing I feel like we're missing right now is leadership. It's not just about one or two great players that we need to lead, but a culture of leadership that needs to be created. We need people to model what leadership is all about and to teach our athletes how to be great captains.

With all the amazing athletic success at Wisconsin in football, basketball and hockey, our athletes need to reach out to other top programs and ask the captains to share how they lead. It's interesting after being around teams in the past and coaching and playing, there's a toughness and savvy that we need. We need a few people who refuse to let the team or individuals be bad. For now, it's just our staff saying the tough things and holding people accountable.

What great teams have...

Great teams have a group of hard working athletes who love the game of softball, who are passionate about being extraordinary at what they do. Amazing teams are comprised of fearless individuals who know their strengths as an athlete and joyfully pursue improving their weaknesses, step by step.

Championship programs have a group who hold themselves to a higher standard, working to be great in all parts of their lives; academically, offensively, defensively and socially. There is accountability within great programs, where people aren't afraid to talk about what's missing and what needs to be done.

Most importantly, great programs achieve. The leaders will work, fight and prepare to guarantee effort and results. Leaders refuse to let their team walk in flat or scared. On their way to success, great teams grow by being fearless. They aren't afraid to fail. When they do stumble, they work through the difficulties, they embrace the journey, and all the while they fully believe in their talent, teammates, and inherent ability to succeed.

Mental toughness and confidence are the keys to achievement. Great teams and athletes have a sense of urgency. They passionately work to improve, grow, and minimize their deficiencies while remaining focused, cheerful and confident.

What would it take to truly believe that everything is going to work out, that things are meant to be good and you deserve to succeed? I don't know why some athletes truly believe that they are great, that their team is great and failures and setbacks are just bumps in the road along the path of achievement.

What's really important in this whole collegiate experience? What matters most as a take away from college athletics? Is it wins and losses and ERA and batting average? Or confidence, success and a deep belief that anything can be worked towards, built and attained?

When our athletes walk out the door in four years with an amazing degree from a nationally-ranked school, the most important asset they can take with them is an unshakable belief in themselves.

Athletics forges a sense of purpose and control over our lives. It is a microcosm of the world, where we all get to see and experience how hard-work, passion and dedication lead to success. Great things can be built from scratch.

Legacies and programs grow from the ground up, becoming something extraordinary and lasting, when a few passionate people dedicate themselves to improving as individuals and as a team. It is that group achievement that you'll never forget. Growing, leading, and lifting up those around you is life changing, its life affirming.

All great leaders care more about the relationships and group success over personal glory. There's an amazing satisfaction and pride that comes from making everyone around you better as you collectively achieve.

That lesson in leadership must come alive at Wisconsin. Legacies aren't easily built. They are hard-fought victories with a prize truly worth the years of dedication they take to grow.

Confidence, mental toughness and competitiveness

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the team's success at the Wolf Pack Softball Classic and what is key for UW's top performers.

It's sunny and 78 in Madison today, as we prepare for our last spring trip. We're thrilled to practice outside on the dirt this early in the spring.

What a great weekend for Badger softball in Reno. The team went 4-1 in Nevada, batting .394. We're 10-7 overall right now, which puts us 4th in the Big Ten with our winning percentage. A few of our student-athletes are really playing well, including many of our Midwest kids.

Former New Trier (Ill.) standout Molly Spence was named Big Ten Player of the Week after batting .529 with an OPS of 1.873. Molly reached base in each game of the weekend and had three multi-hit games, including two, three-hit games. She belted four home runs on the weekend, including two in the final game against Nevada, finishing with 10 RBI.

Freshman Maria Van Abel, from Kaukauna, Wis., is leading the Big Ten in hitting, with a .459 batting average.  She's done a great job at the top of the lineup, setting the table for our big hitters. Maggie Strange, our junior catcher from Gallatin, Mo., is leading the Big Ten in throwing out runners and allowing the least number of steals against.

The key for our top performers is definitely confidence, mental toughness and competitiveness. Each of our standout athletes has the right temperament. They understand that success is a process, and the only way to achieve small victories is continued hard work, a great attitude and the overwhelming desire to succeed. Injuries, setbacks and obstacles don't faze the best student-athletes. They just continue to work hard, developing a plan for improvement each day. They refuse to fail, and emotionally invest in the success of this year's team and the Badger softball program.

We leave Thursday for Santa Barbara, Calif. We'll have five games on the road, including a big match-up on Sunday against nationally-ranked Oklahoma State. OSU returns most of their squad from last year's team that reached the 2011 Women's College World Series. They just pitched a no-hitter against Nebraska who was ranked earlier this year too. We've had great games against several ranked teams this spring, and it's time to get over the hump. This game is a great opportunity to steal a key win for our young squad.

We've seen some weekends of good pitching early this spring, and strong offense lately. We're looking forward to putting it all together this weekend, building some excitement and energy as we open up Big Ten play next weekend at Iowa.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking risks

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about stepping outside of your comfort zone to become great.

After three weekends on the road, we're 6-6, after going 2-1 on the weekend, posting wins over UConn and Charleston Southern, and a loss to Kansas who was on a 14-game winning streak. Our last game of the weekend was rained out. We'll travel west the next two weekends, flying to Nevada and California.

With the rain delays this weekend, we had time for a good team chalk-talk on the road. The focus for this week is ownership, accountability and urgency. As a staff, we're okay with where we're at. The team is working hard and getting better every day. We're keeping our head above water, winning some games and playing fine. The hard message for our team is that none of us play sports aspiring towards mediocrity. No one shows up to the field looking to split. We work hard and prepare in order to separate ourselves from our peers, not to be status quo.

So, while we're not in the dumps, and not getting throttled by other teams, we're very average. We're showing up to the field, putting in the work and playing okay. The sense of urgency for all of us comes from getting over the mediocre hump. Wisconsin softball is about building something extraordinary. It's about making great plays on defense that inspire people; it's about dominating from the mound, and having an electric offense. Badger softball at its best is gritty, tenacious, fiery and exciting. We know that as you build and grow a program, you can't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, take risks and do something special. Razzle Dazzle.

Our staff is excited to see the team catch fire soon. We know this group has the ability to get things clicking on all cylinders, creating some energy, excitement and momentum. We haven't found our groove yet, which is fine. No one wants to peak in February. But, March is the time to make great strides. Mentally tough teams take the lessons they learn early in the season, they make the critical adjustments, stick with the game plan and start playing quality softball.

The biggest jump we all face in life is the move from good to great. Coach Schneider has spoken to the team many times about what it takes to be a great program; the extra effort, the attitude, the approach and swagger. We've challenged our team to work even harder, do extra, and emotionally invest in the Badger softball family. We were so proud to hear that the team ran its own captain's practice Sunday night after a long weekend of travel. We're seeing leadership start to bud.   

Great opportunities within reach for Badgers

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about adversity and opportunity.

Adversity, what a great word for sports, what a great lesson for life. Wisconsin softball is 4-5 right now.  It's a good 4-5. We've played a great schedule, with our three of our five losses to top 25 teams, and the other two losses to Arkansas and Maryland who are in the top 30/receiving votes.

The first few weekends always test your mental toughness. Everyone enters the season with high hopes and dreams of the type of impact player they could be. Everyone has their sights set on making huge strides as a program, getting out of the gates fast and knocking off a few ranked teams. Reality can be humbling. When things don't go as you'd planned, it can either motivate or hold your back.

For Badger softball, this week is about focus and confidence. When you face ranked teams, and you play in tough, tight games that you almost win, it breaks your heart. Adversity tests your character, placing you in pressure situations, forcing you to act, react, and respond during and after competition. As a growing team that's still trying to figure out who we are, and how to win big games, it's the response that matters most. What happens after the game; what do you do every day afterwards to improve? As a coaching staff, we're so pleased that our team has the opportunity to play in tight games against great pitchers early in the season. It builds your database, and makes you a smarter, tougher team.

As a staff, we work hard to prepare our team to compete. We've challenged them mentally and physically throughout the fall and winter. We've built up their softball IQ and worked on mental training. Yet there is no substitute for the real feelings that arise when each players battles through the ups and downs of the season. It is the games that cause that gut reaction, the nerves, the thrills and hearth-break. There's no way to simulate that emotional rush. What we cannot account for as coaches is each individual's mental toughness, and their ability to deal with adversity and challenges. Great players always bounce back.

I think our team is in the perfect position to make a run, and go on a role these next 14 games. We're prepared, we've been tested; we're learning and getting better each and every game. Our success over the next three weekends will be a direct result of how mentally tough our team is. If the challenges of the past two weekends bring us down, and hold us back, it could get ugly. If the adversity causes divisiveness internally, we could be in trouble. Yet if we can pull confidence and trust from what we've learned in playing tough ranked teams, we could surprise some people.

I'm excited to see our team's character and leadership develop. This weekend could be a great turning point for the Badgers. We'll see if we have the leadership and experience to make the jump. I would love to see the team pull together, get excited, and string together some wins. It all comes down to temperament. These are the moments in the season, and in our student-athletes careers, when the greatest opportunity is right within reach.