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Sunday, March 03, 2024

From national champions to standout sophomores, Wisconsin’s best athletes of 2018

As the fall semester winds down, The Daily Cardinal’s beat writers celebrate the top athletes during the fall seasons.


After a decorated freshman season a year ago in which she was named First Team All-American and AVCA Freshman Player of the Year, sophomore middle blocker Dana Rettke added to her trophy case with a spectacular 2018 season. Standing at an intimidating 6 feet 8 inches, Rettke was a lot to handle for nearly every team Wisconsin faced. Rettke led the Badgers with 408 kills, a whole 108 more than the second-highest qualifier.

On the defensive side, the sophomore compiled a team best of 170 blocks which was 77 more than the second best on the team. But her most telling stat might be her 73 digs, illustrating the tall middle blocker’s impressive range in being able to get down low to keep the ball alive. The Riverside, Illinois native has started all 62 matches that Wisconsin has played since her college volleyball career began, a true testament to her dominance.

Rettke took home her first AVCA National Player of the Week award on Oct. 22 and was given the Big Ten Player of the Week for the same period. Earlier this week, Rettke earned her first full-season award of 2018, as she was named to the AVCA All-Region Team for the Midwest.

While the Badgers are still alive in the NCAA tournament, they face San Diego in the Sweet 16 on Friday. Rettke likely has more awards and nominations awaiting her as she builds her legacy at a successful Wisconsin program.

—Simon Farber

Women’s Soccer

When it comes to a player’s impact on a team, most look first to the stat sheet. But some soccer players’ worth cannot be measured purely with statistics.

Senior midfielder Victoria Pickett is one such player. While Pickett only tallied one goal and four assists on the season, she, alongside senior midfielder Alexis Tye, dictated play in the center of midfield. Her dominance in the center of the park helped her earn All-Big Ten First Team honors for the second consecutive year, along with First Team All-American honors to boot.

Whenever Pickett got possession of the ball — sometimes after a tackle, sometimes a pass from her teammates — her pace and dribble allowed her to consistently take the ball from coast to coast and beat any opponents who attempted to stop her. As a result, she was often double-covered, which allowed her teammates to make deep runs and take advantage of open space she created.

After a 1-0 win against Nebraska, sophomore forward Lauren Rice said best how crucial Pickett is for Wisconsin.

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“When Vick’s playing well, our team is doing well,” Rice said

Pickett’s presence in the midfield was crucial in the Badgers journey to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, being halted only by No. 1 Stanford in a hard-fought 1-0 contest in Palo Alto. Pickett’s impacted every game in which she played and more than earned her honors at season’s end.

—Julien Scribner

Men’s Soccer

In a year of uncertainty for the rebuilding Wisconsin men’s soccer team, there was no doubt senior defender Isaac Schlenker was the leader.

As the team lost its dynamic attack that led the Badgers to their first Big Ten title since 1995, Schlenker, a former walk-on, was the team’s captain and a mainstay on Wisconsin’s right flank.

Schlenker led by example, scoring four goals and getting one assist as the Badgers went 6-2-0 during Big Ten play. Although they narrowly missed out on a NCAA Tournament berth, new faces got chances to shine and start crucial minutes after Wisconsin the roster turnover.

Noah Melick scored six goals and Andrew Akindele pitched in with four as both were named to the All-Big Ten freshman team; defender Zach Klacnick also earned a spot there. Head coach John Trask said that Schlenker’s leadership skills helped welcome in those new players into the fold and allowed them to play well.

“The way he’s gone about not just welcoming but encouraging and letting the young guys know how successful they can be … that’s just invaluable,” Trask said.

Schlenker’s leadership on and off the pitch was invaluable this season, and the wins and conference title earned during his four years helped build up the program.

—Bremen Keasey


Despite the disappointing football season, sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor did not disappoint, picking up at least 100 rushing yards.

After a freshman campaign which saw Taylor break Adrian Peterson’s freshman record, expectations were high for the sophomore running back. Taylor surpassed them, only having one game with less than 100 rushing yards as he finished the regular season with 1,989 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, both personal bests.

His highlight of the season was in the triple-overtime win against Purdue. Taylor rushed for 321 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winner on his 33rd carry of the game. Even when he wasn’t earning all the headlines, Taylor impressed. After a 221-yard day against Nebraska, junior offensive tackle David Edwards joked Taylor had one of the quietest 221-yard performances he had ever seen. This was a game where Taylor had an 88-yard touchdown run.

With the Pinstripe Bowl remaining on the schedule, Taylor should have no problem eclipsing 2,000 yards for the season and surpassing 4,000 yards in his young career. Taylor was named the Big Ten Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year for 2018, and if he continues his stellar performances into next season, he’ll be a likely Heisman candidate in 2019.

—Morgan Spohn

Cross Country

“We’ve been preparing for this meet for a long time.”

Morgan McDonald was typically understated in the lead-up to the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country National Championships, where he was looking to be the first runner in 20 years to capture the title on his home course.

McDonald and head coach Mick Byrne had formulated the plan for the senior to redshirt and run his final race as a Badger in Madison three years earlier. While the team had endured hard times in those years, McDonald toed the line with everything according to plan.

A record-setting crowd lined the course, packed with Badger fans hoping to see their hometown hero walk off with a win.

McDonald entered the home straight neck-and-neck with some of the country’s other top runners, the fans packing the barriers straining to see who would take the lead.

He turned on the jets and outkicked the rest of the field to seal both his title and the storybook ending to his collegiate cross country career.

“To win this at home in front of this amazing crowd … it’s just amazing,” Byrne said.

Already a star in track and cross country, with six Big Ten titles, three All-American accolades and two school records to his name, McDonald’s national title elevates him into an elite class of runners who have donned the cardinal and white singlet.

—Cameron Lane-Flehinger

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