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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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The Wisconsin women’s hockey team returns to the LaBahn Arena at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 20, 2023 for a Welcome Back ceremony after winning the 2023 NCAA D1 National Women’s Hockey National Championship.

Column: Following hockey triumph, Wisconsin is now America’s women’s sports school

As men’s basketball and football continue to disappoint, the success of women’s teams creates an opportunity to reframe Wisconsin’s sports reputation.

In college sports, schools in America tend to have a reputation based on what they are typically successful in. Alabama and Oklahoma tend to be known as “football schools,” while Duke and Kansas are referred to as “basketball schools.” 

Here, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, football and men’s basketball are both a strong part of the school’s rich athletic tradition and are absolutely integral to the university’s history. However, in light of recent malaise in both the football and men’s basketball programs, it’s perhaps time to reevaluate the school’s athletic status and consider a new title — the women’s sports school. 

Besides maybe Connecticut or South Carolina for women’s basketball, it is not often you hear of a university associated with their women’s sports teams. 

Considering the recent, as well as historical, success of some of the Badger women’s programs, Wisconsin is the perfect school to take the women’s sports mantle. 

In light of the women’s hockey team’s recent triumph in the NCAA Championship over Ohio State, the program now has a staggering seven national championships, the most of any Division I women’s hockey program. The Badgers won three of the last five championships awarded, nine conference regular season titles and have appeared in 14 total NCAA Frozen Fours. 

For a young program that began in 1999, this level of success is rare and mostly unmatched.  Additionally, the women’s hockey program has produced countless distinguished alumni, such as Olympians Hillary Knight, Sarah Nurse, Meghan Duggan, Meaghan Mikkelson, Jessie Vetter and many more. Wisconsin is home to gold medalists, professional champions and some of women’s hockey’s greatest and most recognizable figures. 

The common denominator throughout this remarkable run of success is head coach Mark Johnson. Before he coached, Johnson was a two-time All-American and national champion for the men’s team. Now leading the bench, Johnson has overseen all seven championships and has a 577-110-52 record as coach. When he wraps up his career, Johnson should undoubtedly be included on Wisconsin’s Mount Rushmore of coaches alongside the likes of Barry Alvarez, Bo Ryan and Johnson’s father, Bob. 

Yet, hockey isn’t the only women’s program of late that has achieved uber success. 

The volleyball team claimed the school’s second-most recent national championship in 2021, before the hockey team’s victory. Volleyball doesn’t have quite the trophy cabinet of the women’s hockey team, but their achievements and consistency, especially recently, deserve praise. 

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The program has made it to the Elite Eight every year dating back to 2018, and to the Final Four from 2019-21, ending with their national championship two years ago. 

The Badgers were unable to repeat as champs this past season but still finished in the Elite Eight after a 28-4 season, including a 19-1 conference record. The Badgers have won the Big Ten regular season title nine times, including four in a row dating back to 2019. 

There is no question that the women’s hockey and volleyball programs are the university’s standard bearers right now. It’s not just the accomplishments — the support for women’s sports here in Madison is unmatched. 

The volleyball team played 17 games at the Field House in 2022, and all but one of those games was announced as a sellout. Wisconsin also set the NCAA regular season volleyball attendance record with a crowd of 16,833 at the Kohl Center against Florida in September. Although that record may be shattered because Nebraska will be playing a volleyball game at their cavernous football home, Memorial Stadium, the Badgers can always retake the lead. 

Wisconsin volleyball defeats Maryland 3-0 on Senior Night.

On the other hand, women's hockey finished first in attendance of any Division I program this past season. Attendance peaked in February when they managed to draw 14,430 to their “Fill the Bowl” game at the Kohl Center. 

With this level of success and support, Wisconsin should refrain from copying countless other schools and only care about football or men’s basketball. 

While we wait for head football coach Luke Fickell to improve the football program, and for the men’s basketball team to return to the NCAA Tournament, the community can at least celebrate the outstanding sports programs on campus succeeding right now. 

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