April 21, 2014
• Healy News Conference
MADISON, WIS. -- Wisconsin softball coach Yvette Healy talked with the media Monday about the Badgers' 10-game winning streak and UW's upcoming home series against Purdue.
Video of Healy's media session can be found above, and a complete transcript of his remarks is below.
Coach Yvette Healy: It's a big weekend for the softball team. We're excited to be back home and get to play in front of the fans.
This series couldn't be more important. Purdue is in third place. They're just putting together a lot of wins in the Big Ten. And to get to do it for Senior Weekend in front of our fans and on the Big Ten Network, I think it's all playing out exactly the way we'd like it to.
Question: Yvette, where do you think your team is at right now compared to a year ago?
Coach Healy: We're in a good place. We knew how tough the season would be at the beginning for how we scheduled it, but when you live through it, it's another thing. I think every coach can say, wow, this is going to be a tough stretch. It really was tough on everybody at the beginning. But to see everybody starting to pull it together now is exciting as a staff.
You've got to play well down the stretch. And we know the very end of the schedule is extremely tough with Nebraska midweek next week, and then you go to Michigan. Michigan Wisconsin hasn't won there since the '90s, if I'm right.
It's tough when you're going to finish up with top ten teams. We're really happy with where we're at. Of course, when you're winning a couple games, everybody's happier.
But this series really is going to kind of define how far we can go, I think.
Question: Kind of along those lines, Yvette, ignoring the schedule for a second. Last year was difficult because you had to punch through some things to get to where you did. I'm just curious if in any way this year has been more difficult, either from a personnel standpoint, based on replacing some key players, or sometimes kids kind of exhale a little bit after they've achieved something and you have to push them a little bit. In any way have you had challenges that you didn't have last year.
Coach Healy :Probably in every way. It really has been a challenging year. You graduate just some great seniors from last year, our 2 hitter, our 3 hitter, our 4 hitter, and then a great lefty on the mound who could just strike people out. It changes the whole complexion.
Now you've got new kids at different positions, you've got new people that really have to step up and carry the flag.
So it's been a learning curve the whole year. But it makes it fun. For as challenging as the year has been, it's probably one of the most gratifying years thus far that I've had in coaching because we just have a lot of players coming along.
Right now in the middle you've got Ashley Van Zeeland, the walk on from Kaukauna playing short who just had a phenomenal weekend at Penn State. And then you've got Megan Tancill, a local Edgewood kid, playing second. So you've got left handed slappers that walked on for us that are in the lineup. And Maria Van Abel is in center for us, another walk on from Kaukauna.
So you've got some homegrown talent, and those kids really had to work extremely hard to become Big Ten kids. And they're holding their own, and it makes us extremely proud every day.
Question: At the start of the season, it was basically a win loss, win loss, win loss, win loss. Now you guys have won ten in a row. What changed to make you guys find that consistency the last couple of weeks?
Coach Healy: That's a great question. I'd like to know myself. The team, it's funny, but we said a couple of weeks ago, we're just missing getting on a roll. That's the only thing we're missing. We've got some quality wins. We've got some tough kids on the team. We just haven't had that get on a roll and start riding the momentum. We just started doing it a little bit.
You need to do everything well to do it, though. You can't just pitch to win games. You've got to pitch, you've got to hit, you've got to defend. To see it all come together a little bit makes a big difference.
When you have a player like Michelle Mueller that just blows up on the scene. It's fun on Easter Sunday with my kids watching her on ESPN's top plays yesterday. I don't think there's a better way to start your day than the kids doing an egg hunt and having coffee and seeing Michelle Mueller on ESPN's SportsCenter.
When you have a player that plays like that, it changes everything.
Question: You sounded as if you knew what this year would be like given the personnel loss. Did you think the players did, the players were going to be who you were going to ask to step up and perform? Do you think their expectations changed at all?
Coach Healy: I don't know if they were ready for how hard it would be. But we've got a great senior class. So that helps. Mary Massei has just been a bulldog for four years for us. She's been solid and she's really been a star that hasn't even gotten all the attention yet this year. So when you put her together with Mueller, you've got Cassandra Darrah on the mound, and Stephanie Peace, who has always been tough for us, is now we joke around. We used to call her warning track, and now she's putting the ball over the fence a little more.
So that makes a difference when you have that. And then we had another pitcher emerge. So Kelly was talking about having his players for volleyball doing national having international experience. Well, Taylor is a sophomore for us who has been playing on that New Zealand Junior National team and just made the New Zealand National team.
So New Zealand is known for pitchers, you think about fast pitch, especially men's fast pitch. So to have a kid like that, I think she's kind of our ninja that people don't know her that well, she's kind of unscouted, and she's a competitor.
Question: Speaking of those seniors, there's still a little ways to go, but what do you think the legacy of that group is going to be?
Coach Healy: My favorite thing about them is that they all buy in. They've worked really hard, and they've made themselves into great players. So we had to say at our we always do pregame talks, and at Penn State we had to remind them how much they've achieved.
I think it's a funny thing because you never do that in the middle of the season. You don't tell anybody how good they are midseason and late in the season. But that group, they just want it so bad. They're disappointed if it's not perfection. We had to remind them: Look, you guys weren't recruited by the biggest teams in the country, yet you're legitimate powerhouse kids right now that could play anywhere. Just to remind them how well they've done. It's been fun.
This is Senior Weekend. You get Senior Day and a lot of tears on Sunday. I think we're going to be working hard to keep them focusing and laughing and not let them get too emotional for this weekend.
Question: Where does Michelle's catch rank on your list of your personal top ten of softball plays?
Coach Healy: This weekend was unreal for catches actually. Friday night, we win the game. Katie Christner emerged out of nowhere in right field for a brilliant catch in front of all her fans and made one of the best catches I've seen. And then you watch Michelle Mueller bang into the wall. I mean, Michelle Mueller is a banged up kid. She's hurting, she's limping, she's got that knee brace, you see her, and she is just muscling through a lot of pain. And she goes head on into the wall. You could see her bang her leg right into it. That kid's got more heart than most players that you're going to see in any sport.
So we were really proud of the team. We tell everybody to play hard. And her, we tell her maybe don't play so hard. Take it down a notch and just stay in the game. I don't know if I've said that to a player in all the years that I've coached. So I think that shows how hard she really plays.
Question: Did you expect the power numbers for Michelle? She's been pretty good for you the first three years. These are pretty good numbers here.
Coach Healy: I think it's incredible. I don't think you ever expect power because it's something that usually comes when you're not trying. When she's loose and having fun, she puts the ball over the fence. And it's like that with a lot of our kids. When they try to hit home runs, it's really a tough thing to do. That's been a pleasant surprise.
Stephanie Peace, her power this year. And then you look at Chloe Miller behind the plate. You get a freshman from Iowa who was playing high school ball last summer in the middle of nowhere Iowa, and now she's in the Big Ten and putting the ball over the fence in a big way. It's pretty fun.
Question: Every team in the sport seems to have sort of the tough guy that sort of motivates everybody and leads by example. In football it was probably Chris Borland. In basketball it's probably Josh Gasser. Is it fair to say that the way Michelle plays, is she kind of that tough person that really people feed off of?
Coach Healy: You know, she's got a lot of energy, and I think that's what that you see there, that she plays really hard. She's competitive. And the team rallies behind her. They just love her.
Every time she does something great, you see people jumping out and banging her on the helmet. They couldn't be more excited for someone. She's a kid battling injury all year. So we gave her an award a couple weeks ago at the Buckinghams for the Unsung Hero Award, which is supposed to go to the kid who doesn't get recognition, but does everything behind the scenes. She said, Man, Coach, you couldn't have missed the mark more on that unsung hero, joking that she got all this national attention.
But she really hasn't. A kid from La Crosse who had come in and hit all singles her freshman year and stole bases for us that is putting up these power numbers, it's pretty fun to see.
Question: Looking at the RPI rankings, there's some tough teams, but the way your team has come together recently, is it realistic to expect similar postseason success this year?
Coach Healy: We're on the bubble right now. I think everybody knows it. You get a chance to play Purdue, and they could be a bubble team too. So it's fun. It's challenging, but I think it's how the team plays best when our backs are against the wall.
This weekend will tell a lot about where we're at. We know the end of the conference season, you're seeing the top ten teams in the RPI with Michigan and Nebraska. With Purdue, you've got to go into this series with them in third place and just realize how exciting it is and how big it is.
If we can start playing well and keep ramping it up, it could be fun to watch us down the stretch.
Question:What are you expecting crowd wise, especially Sunday? How high do you think you can go?
Coach Healy: We've been all over the state doing camps and clinics. As a staff, we've been working really hard to get out there and support the state, and we've seen a tremendous amount of support back. It would be fun to see, see us even break that record. People said they didn't think we could do 2,000. I think we were at Penn State this weekend and they broke their record at 700. Our kids laughed and they were like, Do we have more than 700? I said, Yeah.
It was nice to be there for their record breaking one, but our girls do such a good job of giving back. We did a free clinic a week ago, and we had 80 kids there running around. The girls are so generous with their time and signing autographs now that I think kids want to put their families around such great role models.
Question: Looks like you guys are trying to lure the kids in with free ice cream. What kind of ice cream will be served on Sunday?
Coach Healy: You know, I don't know. I don't know what kind of ice cream we've got. I'm sure any time there's something free and ice cream I'm sure my Healy kids will be there in the stands with ice cream all over their faces.
It will be fun to give them something for free. I think kids respond to that kind of stuff. To see them really chanting in the stands we've had more kids yelling to our players by name. And that's been really sweet to see, "I love you, Cassandra," and "Throw me the ball, Michelle," and they actually know them. It's a great thing as a coach and a parent to see those relationships.