Feb. 24, 2014
BY CHRISTIAN BLATNER
UW Athletic Communications
MADISON, Wis. – Over the past few decades, the Wisconsin football team has prided itself on being one of the premiere walk-on programs in the country.
Young players who may have been offered scholarships from smaller Division I schools or received no interest at all after high school have flocked to Madison where, since 1990, Barry Alvarez, then as head coach and now as athletic director, has emphasized the importance of giving these underdogs a chance to take the field for the Badgers.
The program has produced 141 letterwinners, 11 team captains and 15 NFL players since 1990, including stars such as 2012 AP Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt and most recently, Jared Abbrederis who received the 2013 Burlsworth Trophy as the best player to begin his career as a walk-on.
But the success of Wisconsin walk-ons doesn’t stop there.
Now in her fourth year at the helm of the softball program, Yvette Healy is beginning to reap the benefits of the advice she took from Alvarez when interviewing for the job.
Two weekends ago playing in the Florida International Classic in Miami, Fla., walk-ons Megan Tancill, Maria Van Abel and Ashley Van Zeeland combined to tally 18 of the Badgers’ 41 hits, posting a .460 batting average and scoring seven of the team’s 19 runs.
Despite finishing the weekend with a record of 2-3, the trio shone bright, proving once again that the UW’s emphasis on developing walk-ons is second to none.
“Coach Alvarez told me how important it was to throw our arms around the state of Wisconsin and create a solid walk-on strategy,” Healy explained. “And thank goodness for that great advice.”
The softball coaching staff has worked hard to develop a great presence in the state of Wisconsin. The Badgers host the WIAA state high school tournament at the Goodman Softball Complex, bringing some of the most talented players in the state to Madison.
The staff has been invited to speak at high school all-star banquets, state coaches clinics and high school athletic directors events. It’s held clinics on campus in Madison and across the state, trying to help grow the game of softball in Wisconsin and it’s paid dividends for the program.
“It's fun to work with athletes and their families who have grown up cheering for the Badgers,” Healy said. “Our top three hitters from the FIU Classic, Michelle Mueller, Ashley Van Zeeland and Maria Van Abel, are all from the state of Wisconsin.
“Those kids take a lot of pride representing the thousands of girls playing softball in the state of Wisconsin who dream of wearing the ‘Motion W.’”
UW’s roster features six Wisconsinites, four of which are currently in the starting lineup. Eight more players hail from the Midwest (three from Iowa and five from Illinois), validating the program’s goal to stick to its roots.
“Our Midwest kids have shown a tremendous amount of heart, passion, grit and pride,” Healy said. “It’s the relationships that we’ve built in the area as a staff that’s helped to attract and recruit some of the top talent in Wisconsin and the surrounding states.”
After a turnout of nearly 500 campers at the softball program’s winter clinics in January, it’s clear the sport’s future is bright in Wisconsin and for the Badger softball family.
When Coach Alvarez gives advice, you listen.