2017 was by almost all measures the most successful season in program history, but its ending also left many Badger fans wanting more. Without top-10 Penn State or Ohio State on the schedule, Wisconsin breezed through its regular season, going undefeated with the final win an exclamation point shutout over rival Minnesota to finish 12-0. The Badgers were ranked No. 4 by the College Football Playoff committee going into the Big Ten title game against Ohio State. UW lost 27-21 in heartbreaking circumstances, and were out of the Playoff standings. Despite the disappointment, Wisconsin rebounded to capture a 34-24 Orange Bowl victory over the Miami Hurricanes in their own stadium. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook showed promise in the season-ending victory, throwing no picks and four touchdowns. In the ultimate breakout season, freshman running back Jonathan Taylor went from third-stringer entering fall camp to the third-best rushing mark for a freshman in NCAA history.
Wisconsin was in the news even before the opening kickoff when junior wide receiver Quintez Cephus took a leave of absence and was subsequently suspended for a pair of sexual assault charges. Fellow receiver Danny Davis was also suspended for a pair of games for his alleged involvement in the incident, leaving the Badgers down a pair of offensive contributors entering the season. On the field, Taylor picked up right where he left off in the first game against Western Kentucky, running for 145 yards and two scores as the Badgers won 34-3. Hornibrook also threw two touchdowns and came within a yard of his career high in passing, while the offense looked very confident as the game progressed. The defense, despite losing seven staters to graduation and the NFL, showed some cracks against the pass but managed to hold the Hilltoppers when it counted, getting two red zone turnovers to shift the momentum and hold WKU without a touchdown. Until the Big Ten season starts at Iowa, UW shouldn’t face too many tests, but the early signs are promising for another good run to the Big Ten Championship game.
Player to Watch
Seniors Alec James, Chikwe Obasih, Leon Jacobs and Connor Sheehy had anchored the defensive line for multiple years, but all four are now graduated. Their presumed replacement, sophomore Isaiahh Loudermilk, is out with a knee injury and is unlikely to return until at least the beginning of Big Ten play. Until then, senior defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu is the only experienced member of a unit that traditionally anchors the UW defense. In need of bodies, redshirt freshman Kayden Lyles converted from offensive line to defensive line during spring camp, while freshman defensive end Matt Henningsen has also taken on a bigger role. The Badgers only had one sack against Western Kentucky and at times struggled to contain Hilltopper quarterback Drew Eckels. Sagapolu is easy to project as a big body in the middle who will eat up blockers, but Lyles, Henningsen and eventually Loudermilk will need to step up significantly if Wisconsin is going to break through their Big Ten Championship ceiling.
2017 was a historic year for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s soccer team. They won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 1995 and reached the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Chris Mueller led the nation in assists with 20 — the most in Division 1 since 2004 — and was drafted in the first round of the Major League Soccer draft by Orlando City SC. Wisconsin scored 45 goals last season with a potent attack lead by Mueller, along with forwards Tom Barlow and Mike Catalano who each hit double digit goals, and Mark Segbers who notched an additional seven assists. All four of those attackers have graduated and are in the professional ranks, and the Badgers are now led by a strong spine of veterans and young attackers.
The Badgers have had a mixed season so far, posting a 2-2-0 record in their first four games. Wisconsin was ranked 15th to start the season, but lost their opener 2-1 on the road to Grand Canyon University. After returning to Madison and earning a 2-0 win over Hartford, the Badgers suffered a heartbreaking overtime 1-0 loss to the No. 15 Fordham Rams at home in a game where they had many of chances to put away the game earlier. UW bounced back with a 1-0 win against Valparaiso in a downpour before to get back to .500 before a Illinois road trip.
Player to Watch
With the sudden loss of four key attacking players to the professional ranks, UW is looking for a new group of forwards to recharge the offense. Collectively, the young forwards are the players to watch this season as the Badgers look to defend their Big Ten Tournament title. Freshman forward Andrew Akindele has had the best start to the season, scoring one goal and assisting another, freshman midfielder Olafur Olafsson has looked dangerous on the flank and has an assist, freshman forward Noah Melick got into a grove against Valparaiso, nearly scoring two goals and freshman forward Charles Spragg has played for the New Zealand U-20 national team. Wisconsin’s search for replacements looks promising, and the team will do well if the young attackers can find some goals.
Wisconsin standout Dani Rhodes scored 11 goals last season, a third of the team’s total tally, en route to a 14-6-2 record. Highlights of the season included a win 1-0 in Charlottesville against the then-No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers — the school’s highest-ranked victory in program history. Rhodes scored the winner in that game, and freshman forward Cammie Murtha scored six goals last season including five game-winners of her own. After reaching the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers got a 5-0 win over Toledo in the first round but in a tough draw, they had to play No. 1-seeded South Carolina. Despite a 1-0 loss, things look promising for the Badgers as they return nine of their 11 starters this season.
Wisconsin has had a strong start to the season, going 4-1-0 with their only blemish a 3-0 home loss to the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles. On the road UW has wins over Kentucky, Washington and Portland and is entering a four game homestand. Now in her sophomore campaign, Murtha has led the Badgers with six points on the season from two goals and four assists. Senior scored two game-winning goals, one early in the season against Marquette and an overtime winner against Portland. Five players have scored for UW and junior forward Dani Rhodes has yet to get started, only getting one assist on the season.
Player to Watch
Junior goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer has stepped into the starting role as goalkeeper after Caitlyn Clem graduated last season. Clem was a two-year starter and was a solid force for Wisconsin back there. Last year, UW only allowed 18 goals last season. Bloomer has big shoes to fill and the Badgers have already let in six goals in the young season. With only one clean sheet, UW will hope to sure up their defense and Bloomer as the last line of defense will be a huge part of it. She has a save percentage of .647 on the year after facing 39 shots. Both the defense and Bloomer will have to step up to get back into the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight year.
The preseason No. 7 team in the country, Wisconsin entered 2017 with typically high expectations despite the departure of four-time All-American Lauren Carlini. Buoyed by the performance of standout freshmen Sydney Hilley and Dana Rettke — the latter of whom was named the 2017 AVCA National Freshman of the Year — the Badgers rose as high as No. 5 in the rankings before a midseason slide during Big Ten play. Wisconsin steadied the ship entering the postseason and won their first two NCAA tournament matches, but were eliminated by Stanford in the Sweet 16 in four sets — the second consecutive year Wisconsin’s season ended at the hands of the Cardinal.
Anchored by Rettke and Hilley, along with former All-Americans Tionna Williams and Molly Haggerty, Wisconsin entered the year ranked No. 8 and has already exceeded expectations. After a quiet opening weekend in Minneapolis, the Badgers returned home for the HotelRED Invitational and quickly dispatched then-second-ranked Texas in four sets. The Cardinal and White received unexpected contributions from sophomore outside hitter Grace Loberg, who started only three matches last season but has stepped up with back-to-back career highs in kills in wins over Florida State and Texas. Loberg ended up earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors for her performance. UW starts a four-game road trip at the end of September with three straight games against top-20 opponents. If Wisconsin can make it through that stretch with at least three wins, they’ll be in good position to capture the conference crown. Back home, dates to circle will be a Halloween night matchup with current No. 1 Minnesota and an October 19th battle against No. 7 Nebraska. With six other Big Ten teams in the top 20 nationally, the Badgers will be tested early and often as they advance through conference play, but early indications are this could be a historic year for UW in the field house.
Player to Watch
A third-team All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in her debut season, redshirt sophomore Molly Haggerty missed all of last year with a back injury that threatened to permanently derail her volleyball career. The Glen Ellyn, Ill. native is back in 2018, and if she can return to the form she showed early in 2016 — when she set a UW three-set record with 27 kills against Texas and was named the AVCA national player of the week — she has the talent to take the Badgers’ offense to the next level. An adept defensive player as well, Haggerty’s ability to play both in the frontcourt and backcourt gives Wisconsin the flexibility to put its best attackers on the court consistently, which will be crucial in matches against the country’s best teams.