After graduating five seniors from a team that produced a respectable 29-23 record in 2018, Wisconsin softball head coach Yvette Healy came into the season with an optimism that suggested more was yet to come from the Badgers.
“There are a lot of players within the program looking to make big strides forward. It’ll be really fun to watch some new faces take their turn.” Healy said.
Wisconsin lost a combined 683 games of experience with the departures of Kelsey Jenkins, Brianna Flugaur, Brooke Wyderski, Samantha Arents and Mariah Watts. However, the Badgers entered 2019 with a promising mix of returning starters and young talent, along with two highly-regarded juniors looking to make their first impact on the program.
“We need some more hitters surrounding the meat of the lineup after graduating Kelsey Jenkins and Brooke Wyderski,” said Coach Healy. “That was a ton of offensive output from last year,” she added.
Three weeks into the season, Wisconsin has made good on Healy’s optimism with what is — by many measures — the best start in program history.
After an early loss to Texas Tech on the second day of the season the Badgers have ripped off 10 straight wins, the fourth-longest winning streak in program history. They now sit at 13-1, the deepest one-loss start to a season the team has ever had.
The Badgers entered the season with a couple of fresh faces with the potential to generate big offensive numbers, and so far they’ve delivered beyond expectations.
Junior catcher Kayla Konwent struggled with injuries during her first two years in Madison, but she’s well on her way to making that a distant memory with her torrid start this season. Playing mostly as an infielder so far in 2019, Konwent has lead the team with a .923 slugging percentage and .596 on-base percentage. Both marks rank in the top 20 nationally for players with at least 10 games played.
Pitcher Caroline Hedgcock, the 2016 MaxPreps National High School Player of the Year, transferred from Arkansas this year, and though she’s seen just nine innings on the mound she’s managed to make her presence felt off the rubber.
Two of the Badger’s most exciting returning starters are sophomores. Pitcher Haley Hestekin and third basemen Taylor Johnson, both all-Big Ten freshman selections last year, have built on fantastic freshman campaigns. Johnson ranks third on the team with a .426 on-base percentage, while Hestekin has been Wisconsin’s workhorse with a team-leading 38.1 innings pitched.
Junior Kaitlyn Menz and Freshman Maddie Schwartz have backed up Hestekin with outstanding numbers in more limited innings, as both pitchers sport an ERA below 1.0.
Healy said that the key to success with such a young team is finding a way in which each player can step up and fill a role.
"It’s never easy at the beginning but luckily were a pretty patient staff,” she joked. “So were excited to teach and coach them around,” Healy said.
Having set multiple program records already with their hot start, the Badgers are set to put up many more throughout the season — including a chance at a record-setting third-straight NCAA sectional appearance.
“We’re talking about playing good softball. And hopefully in May we’re a better team than we are opening weekend.” Healy said.
If that’s the case, the Badgers will truly be a force to be reckoned with.