As the wins are beginning to pile up and the Wisconsin softball team is emerging as a contender for the Big Ten title, it is impossible to overlook head coach Yvette Healy, who has been the key to the team’s success.
Healy has transformed the Badgers from a conference punching bag to one of the most exciting teams to watch in the country in just a short stretch of two years. After a dismal 17-32 finish the season before her arrival from Loyola-Chicago, Healy put the Badgers on the road to success in her first season as head coach, recording only the sixth 30-win season in school history in 2011.
“While we have had some success I would still say we have a long way to go to get where we want to be,” Healy said. “I will say in these two years we have made some nice strides.”
The biggest impact Healy has had on the program has been establishing a looser and more fun culture.
“Under the previous coach a lot of players were really down on themselves and the team,” senior first baseman Karla Powell said. “We still have to earn everything we get but there is a lot less stress that comes with it.”
Many are optimistic about the future of the Wisconsin softball program under Healy, but as in every instance in college athletics, the key to realizing the dreams of success lies in the staff’s recruiting efforts.
The Wisconsin softball program is in a great position to attract some of the premier talent around the nation, as the athletic department will soon begin construction on a new, state-of-the-art indoor softball facility.
“What struck me immediately about coming to Madison was the level of support the university has given its athletic programs,” Healy said.
Working against Healy, recruiting wise, is the historic geographic disadvantage that Big Ten schools have had against the blue bloods of college softball. In the most recent ESPN.com/USA Collegiate softball top 25 rankings, eight of the 25 schools hailed from the Pac-12 and six come from the SEC.
Historically, warm-weather states have been a gold mine for softball recruiting as the weather conditions allow players to hone their skills year round. Although many of the top programs in college softball draw heavily from California, Texas and Florida, Healy does not feel that it is a prerequisite to be successful.
“The key to our program will be attracting Midwestern kids who have a real love for the university and for Badger athletics,” Healy said.
This strategy is not uncommon for those who have enjoyed similar success in turning around previously unsuccessful programs at Wisconsin.
When Barry Alvarez arrived in 1990 as the new head football coach he encountered a program in shambles similar to how Healy found the Badger softball program when she was hired in 2010. During his tenure as head coach, Alvarez adopted a strategy of attracting not necessarily the most highly touted recruits, but recruits who grew up Badger fans and would work hard if given the chance to play for their hometown team. This recruting strategy helped Healy land freshman first baseman Amanda Oberc.
“I was able to contact coach Healy because I knew her from Loyola and was really interested in playing at Madison,” Oberc said. “I’m really happy with my choice to come here, there is really no place I would rather be at.”
With Healy’s early success it is easy for Wisconsin fans to let their imagination run wild for what will come next for the hopeful program.
“I see this program going very far under [Healy],” junior catcher Maggie Strange said. “With her as coach there is really no limit to what can be accomplished here.”