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Saturday, May 28, 2022
T.J. Watt's performance for the Badgers defense earned him the football team's Athlete of the Semester. 

T.J. Watt's performance for the Badgers defense earned him the football team's Athlete of the Semester. 

Top athletes from a momentous semester

By several different measures, this was arguably the greatest semester in Wisconsin athletic history. The football team went from unranked all the way up to No. 8 in the country, providing plenty of heart-stopping moments along the way and coming up just shy of a Big Ten title and a College Football Playoff berth. The volleyball team earned its first ever No. 1 ranking before falling in heart-breaking fashion in the Elite Eight. The men's soccer team went all the way to the Big Ten Championship and the women's soccer team beat Marquette to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Then the leaves changed and the winter sports began and women's hockey beat Minnesota to prove its No. 1 ranking. The men's hockey team began the Granato Era and beat Michigan for the first time in three years. And while the men's basketball team started off a bit slow, the Cardinal and White have turned it around to win five straight. 

There have been lots of ups and a few devastating downs and there's still an entire semester left for this year's edition of Badger athletics. But with one academic period in the books, here are the Daily Cardinal's Athletes of the Semester. 

Football

The Badgers had a memorable season despite an unfortunate finish in the Big Ten Championship. Numerous players contributed to UW exceeding expectations this year, but junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt managed to stand out on one of the nation’s top defensive units, earning him the Athlete of Semester for Badger football.

Watt, the youngest brother of Badger studs J.J. and Derek Watt, led the Cardinal and White in sacks (10.5), tackles for loss (14.5) and quarterback hits (12). The All-Big Ten linebacker also managed to find the end zone this season, intercepting a David Blough pass against Purdue and returning it for a score.

Considering it was Watt’s first year starting for Wisconsin, his leadership was beyond impressive. The playmaking linebacker showed up when it counted most and gave the Badgers stability when they were without team captain Vince Biegel. With Watt leading the way, UW finished with the fourth-most efficient defense in the nation behind Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan.

- Jessi Schoville 

Men’s hockey

He may not be the fastest player on the team, have the best shot or score the most goals, but junior forward Ryan Wagner never stops doing the little things. Even playing alongside NHL Draft picks like sophomore forward Luke Kunin, Wagner has outperformed expectations all season, and has definitely been the Badgers’ player of the semester.

Maybe more than anyone else on the team, Wagner is asked to play any and all roles for Wisconsin. Between a nifty set of hands and a stellar ability on the penalty kill, Wagner has been dominant in both zones, and has impacted the game all over the ice.

Not only is Wagner a skilled two-way forward, but he also continuously makes the little plays to help the Badgers win, including blocking shots and winning face offs. Wagner has impressed each game this season, and has helped the Badgers get off to a strong start this year.

- Ethan Levy 

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Women’s hockey

Last season, Wisconsin goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens put together arguably the best season for a goaltender in the history of women’s collegiate hockey. The Quebec native set single-season records for shutouts (21), save percentage (.960) and goals-against average (0.76).

So far this season, Desbiens has shown no signs of slowing down, as she leads the country in all three categories once again and is on pace to break her own record in goals-against average. Along the way, she surpassed Minnesota goaltender Noora Räty’s record for most career shutouts, and now stands alone with 46 shutouts in 102 starts.

With her name plastered across the NCAA record books, Desbiens now has a bigger goal in mind than her own personal achievements.

“I’m not done so I’m looking forward,” Desbiens said after setting the career shutout record. “I think I should just go for more wins and a national championship.”

- Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Men’s basketball

After spending all summer fine-tuning his body and his game, senior guard Bronson Koenig has shouldered much of the Badgers’ offensive load this season. He leads UW with 16 points per game and when UW’s offense stagnates, Koenig often tries to jumpstart it with his improved jump shot.

Before the season, Koenig said that he wanted to be the best point guard in the country and after only 11 games, he certainly looks like one of the most difficult players to stop. His ability to create space off the dribble, stretch the defense from behind the arc and attack the basket are all just some of the reasons why Koenig is so tough to defend. As the Badgers’ season progresses, look for Koenig to continue to lead UW on the offensive end of the floor and improve not only UW’s chances in the Big Ten, but Koenig’s personal stock as one of the best guards in the country.

- Ben Pickman

Women’s basketball

Junior guard Cayla McMorris has proven to be dependable as the guard is leaned on to not only carry the team on offense, but also lead a team that features six freshmen alone.

Head coach Jonathan Tsipis has not been afraid to put the ball in her hands, even though she came in averaging a meager 6.5 points last year and 4.8 points her freshman year.

This year, her scoring has ballooned to 15.7 per game. Her offensive repertoire was on display in just the second game of the season against Saint Francis, as she scored a career-high 31 points. McMorris utilizes a variety of spins and shot-fakes coupled with soft touch on her layups and floaters to finish tough shots.

While Wisconsin’s record stands at a less-than-stellar 4-8, the team will only grow. The young players will gain more experience and McMorris will get more reps as the go-to scorer, creating more flow to the offense.

- Isaiah De los Santos

Volleyball

In her first season with the Badgers, Molly Haggerty became crucial to the Badgers’ success. Haggerty led the team on offense with 3.41 kills per set, and had the third-most assists on the season. Haggerty was recognized as the top freshman in the Big Ten, winning the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award, and was also an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team.

Haggerty played a crucial role in some of Wisconsin’s biggest wins of the season. She set the three set-record for kills with 27 against Texas A&M, and followed that up with a 20-kill performance against then No. 2 Texas. Haggerty also stepped up in the NCAA Tournament, with 22 kills in a comeback victory over Ohio State to send UW to the Elite Eight, a match which they would end up losing to Stanford. The future of Wisconsin volleyball looks bright with the emerging star Molly Haggerty leading the way.

- Jacob Hams

Men’s Soccer

With a run to the Big Ten championship game and an 11-4-4 overall record, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team was a vastly improved unit in 2016, and a big reason for that was the breakout season of junior forward Christopher Mueller.

Mueller posted career-highs in both goals (8) and assists (12) en route to being named to the All-Big Ten First Team. The Schaumburg, Ill., native was a constant source of danger for opponents, showcasing his ability to create chances, hold up the ball and harry defenders on the ball.

Mueller also showed his versatile set piece ability throughout the season, scoring a brilliant free kick against Saint Louis and providing countless corners in the box that troubled opposing defenses. His winning penalty kick and ensuing shirt-lifting celebration in the Big Ten tournament vs. Indiana was a memorable moment, and felt like a turning point for a program that has struggled the last few years. Now, it’s time for Mueller and Co. to build on that.

- Jake Nisse

Women’s soccer

In her final season as a Badger, senior midfielder Rose Lavelle proved to the world why she was called up to the full U.S. Women’s National Team. The NSCAA second-team All-American had a stellar last season in the Cardinal and White, leading the team in goals (6), shots (74) and shots on goal (31). The Cincinnati native was a nagging source of anxiety for both opposing players and coaches; neither knew what she was going to do next, just that she was going to attempt to get the ball in the net at any cost.

Lavelle’s ballhawk mentality helped the Badgers win several close games, including the first round of the NCAA Tournament against in-state foe Marquette, where her blast from the 18-yard box secured the victory and extended the season.

Lavelle has been the cornerstone of Paula Wilkins’ program for the last four years, and it’s safe to say she ended her collegiate career on a successful note.

- Kelly Ward

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