On a campus like UW-Madison, where football and men’s basketball grab headlines week in and week out, women’s sports can go unnoticed, despite achieving continuous success.
The women’s hockey team is currently ranked No. 1 in the country. Women’s soccer made the NCAA Tournament and had the first overall pick in the draft in Rose Lavelle. And volleyball made it all the way to the NCAA tournament regional final, earning the first No. 1 ranking in program history during the season.
While not on a level of greatness like their counterparts yet, Wisconsin women’s basketball has a new light of hope with head coach Jonathan Tsipis determined to turn the program around after going 47-100 in the previous five seasons.
Two of Tsipis’ biggest pieces to creating a competitive team have emerged in a pair of freshmen: guard Kendra Van Leeuwen and forward Courtney Fredrickson.
While Fredrickson did commit to previous coach Bobbie Kelsey, she decided to stay and learn under Tsipis. Van Leeuwen, on the other hand, was the only commit that Tsipis signed himself, rounding out a class of six freshmen.
Van Leeuwen has showed a Houdini-esque ability to pass the ball and defensive awareness that is surprising for a first-year player. After coming out timid to begin the season shooting-wise, she has developed her 3-point shot to become one of the most dependable shooters on the team.
Fredrickson has been a threat from beyond the arc all season, showing a keen ability to put herself into position to get open looks. On the wing, she likes to take pull up jumpers to keep the defense on their heels.
The Badgers hosted Nebraska Feb. 9, celebrating National Girls & Women in Sports Day, where UW women’s teams like soccer, volleyball, hockey, rowing, tennis and softball came out to show their support for their fellow women’s team.
The crowd was one of the largest that the Kohl center had all season for the women’s team.
“It was amazing to have the volleyball team, I have a lot of volleyball friends, and I’m actually rooming with two of them next year,” said Fredrickson. “All those teams supporting was great to have.”
“It’s just a great atmosphere to play in, especially knowing that your fellow athletes come to support you when you go to support them,” added Van Leeuwen
The women’s team earlier this year went as a team-building event off the court to a volleyball match to show their support during the NCAA tournament, as well as attending some soccer and hockey matches.
“We definitely want to strive to be that good and get there someday,” said Fredrickson. “But we know it takes baby steps.”
Van Leeuwen has started every game this season, while Fredrickson has started all but three, so both have played major minutes already in their young careers. Throughout the campaign, the two have shown they will be building blocks, and faces, of the program for years to come.
“It’s just a really great experience having young people come out and watch us,” said Van Leeuwen. “It might not seem like it, but sometimes they look up to us. And then just being able to be that role model in their life, giving them the extra time, it’s just a big influence in their life.”
Van Leeuwen is a Brantford, Ontario native, having made the jump to Madison to play NCAA basketball from Saint John’s college. She serves as an ambassador to those thinking about playing and joining former teammates and opponents in the U.S.
“There’s a ton of us that have talent in Canada,” said the guard. “A lot of us make the decision to come down and play in the States … I think that it’s a great choice if you wanna challenge yourself.”
Even being almost ten hours away from Madison, Van Leeuwen’s parents have still made the trip multiple times to come watch their Badger play.
Fredrickson, on the other hand, made a name for herself in Minnetonka, Minnesota as a high school prep star. She is one of three Badgers that hail from Minnesota, showing a strong connection for the team in their rival state.
“Cayla [McMorris] and I have actually been friends [a long time]. We both played for North Tartan, the AAU program. Whenever we would scrimmaged we would play against the older girls, which would be Cayla,” said the forward. “I knew Suzy [Gilreath] before … always a great 3-point threat in Minnesota, so that’s how I first heard of her name at a young age.”
With experience under their belts, this Badger team can only get better. One day, they very well could be talked about like their counterparts who have achieved their own respective successes.
Now, Fredrickson and Van Leeuwen serve as role models not only at a home away from home in Madison, but also in places as far as another country and across state lines. They are growing the name of Wisconsin Women’s Basketball, while also being ambassadors to young girls and women alike.