Taylor, Rettke, Campbell highlight top UW athletes from a historic semester
Dani Rhodes is one of the top athletes from a historic semester of UW athletics.Image By: Brandon Moe
Jonathan Taylor emerged out of nowhere at the beginning of season, climbing a crowded running back depth chart to take the starting job. All year long, he ran away with it and away from defenders as well.
After a 223-yard performance against Florida Atlantic in week two, it was clear that the freshman would have a special season, but no one could foresee how historically good he would be.
He went on to finish third in the nation with 1,847 rushing yards, the fifth-best rushing performance in Wisconsin history.
Taylor would be the first person to credit his offensive line for his success, but his impressive production clearly went beyond what his blocking set up.
He led all FBS freshmen with 6.8 yards per carry this season. No other Wisconsin running back this year averaged more than 5.2 yards per attempt.
According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor led all FBS running backs with 1,247 of his rushing yards coming after contact by a defender.
The freshman phenom was individually dominant beyond the help of his teammates, and he was clearly the driving force behind the Badgers’ most successful season in school history.
All summer, the Wisconsin coaching staff gushed about Brad Davison.
Head coach Greg Gard praised his leadership. Assistants Dean Oliver and Howard Moore couldn’t get enough of his dynamic energy level and physical attributes.
Since then, the freshman guard has surpassed any and all expectations, rocketing himself into the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. Davison is second among qualified Badgers in points per game (10.2), first in three-point percentage (42.9 percent), fourth in assists per game (1.3) and is pacing the team with 2.1 steals per contest. In fact, his 19 steals through nine games this season ranks third among all Power 5 freshman guards.
Despite his youth, Davison has already established himself as UW’s most reliable option on offense after Ethan Happ. He’s also the most aggressive and tenacious perimeter defender on the roster and will be a fixture in Madison for the next four years.
It’s not often that a first-year transfer student makes a huge impact on Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team, but for the 2017-’18 Badgers, this has been the case throughout the first half of the year. Sophomore goaltender Kristen Campbell transferred to Madison from North Dakota this summer and her impact on the team has been clear. Campbell is considered by many to be the best goalie in the nation this year, and she has the stats to back up that claim. Campbell boasts the second-best save percentage in the nation at .944, leads the nation's goalies in minutes played by over 100 minutes and is tied for third in the country for most shutouts. She is an integral part of a Badger defense that ranks second overall in the country, and she has boosted the team as a whole with her play. Badger fans should be excited for what Campbell brings to the table not just this year, but in her next two as a Badger as well.
When you lead the nation in assists, you’re going to be the most valuable player on your team.
Senior midfielder Chris Mueller was what helped Wisconsin’s offense tick. With nine goals and a mind-boggling 20 assists – nearly one per game – Mueller’s creative presence on offense helped lead the Badgers to their first Big Ten championship since 1995. That title put Wisconsin into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, where the Badgers reached the Sweet 16 before a tight 3-2 loss to the No. 5 Akron Zips.
The playmaker lit up the field and he always seemed to save his best for when it mattered most. In the Big Ten Tournament, Mueller had the game-winning assist against Maryland and in the NCAA Tournament he had another to senior Mike Catalano that lifted the Badgers over Notre Dame.
Mueller’s sparkling qualities helped the Badgers’ senior-heavy offense score 45 goals during the season, and he helped bring the Big Ten title back to Madison. He had an impact on every game and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. An MVP-worthy season for sure.
After a transcendent debut season with the Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team, Dana Rettke stands out as athlete of the semester. Being recognized as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Big Ten Player of the Week twice and Big Ten Freshman of the Week nine times, Rettke has made as big of an impact on the Big Ten — not just Wisconsin — as anyone this season. By leading the team in kills in most matches and earning the third-highest hitting percentage in the NCAA, Rettke has served as an integral part of Wisconsin’s team. Rettke started all 31 matches the Badgers have played in this season and hasn’t missed a set. While she is a younger member of the team, her upperclassmen teammates have always applauded her ability to learn and adapt to what UW needs, giving a promising glimpse of her future with the Badgers.
For most college teams, the athletes tend to look at their seniors for guidance during practices and games. For the Wisconsin women’s basketball team, that is no different. The Badgers only have three seniors, and so far Cayla McMorris has led that veteran group. The Brooklyn Park, Minn., native made it her goal to finish her career with a winning season, and she has carried the weight of that expectation, averaging double-digit points in seven out of the eight games that the Badgers have played thus far. McMorris is leading the team in points, averaging nearly 15 per game, while also grabbing 46 defensive rebounds this season. As this young Badger team progresses into conference play in the upcoming weeks, do not expect any dip in performances from Cayla McMorris, who is determined to lead these Badgers to new heights.
In just about all of Wisconsin’s losses this year, whether in overtime or regulation, a close game or a blowout, there’s been one constant: When asked about how the team played, head coach Tony Granato goes out of his way to praise the performance of senior forward Ryan Wagner. Against Ohio State, Granato called Wagner the player “more of our guys need to be like.” Against St. Lawrence, when the team lacked players who “were good enough to help their team win,” Wagner was again the exception.
The Park Ridge, Ill. native is tied for the team lead in points, but what stands out about his game is his impact that goes beyond the stat sheet. He’s accumulated only five blocks this season, but he’s Wisconsin’s best defensive forward and just about every game he makes a play, or several, to deny a scoring opportunity. In a season in which the Badgers have struggled to find a consistent identity, Wagner has been the one constant his teammates and coaches can rely on.
Dani Rhodes led the Wisconsin women’s soccer team in goals (11), assists (5) and shots (73) this season, but those stats alone don’t do the sophomore forward justice. From Aug. 31 to Sep. 16, the first team Midwest All-Region and second team Big Ten honoree scored game winners in four consecutive games early in the season and continued to power the Badgers to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Ranked at No. 9 on Sep. 16 — the highest UW would be ranked all season — Rhodes ended the border battle with archrival Minnesota in overtime. Her season of success was only just beginning.
UW fell to No. 1 seed and eventual Final Four team South Carolina 1-0 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but 2017 was a memorable season nonetheless. Wisconsin’s winning percentage of .682 was the best since the 2014 campaign when the Badgers went 19-3-2 (.833) and won the Big Ten Championship.
Including Rhodes, nine of UW’s 11 starters will return next year.
-Ben BlanchardSubscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter