Welcome back for another installment in Talking 10’s “Wisconsin Week” series. Although most of our articles for “Wisconsin Week” are focusing on football, this is our weekly chance to check in on all the other athletic success stories going on in Madison.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of 2015-16 and how that will project forward for Badgers fans in 2016-17. Although there were not many Big Ten titles to speak of across the athletic department, there were some successes outside the context of the Big Ten and on an individual basis.
Let’s see where Wisconsin succeeded the most this year.
(Team photo, courtesy UWBadgers.com)
Heading into the 2015-16 season, Wisconsin was looking to improve on two straight Frozen Four appearances. Of course, when those appearances end in the semifinals to your closest conference rival Minnesota, there’s plenty of motivation to do better and avoid that fate. After all, it couldn’t happen a third time, right?
The Badgers ripped through the regular season with a 30-3-1 record. That included a perfect record at home, as well as a perfect record in non-conference play. Wisconsin also racked up nine consecutive shutouts, an incredible streak of dominant defense to set a national record.
Two of those three losses came in the final weekend of the regular season at Minnesota, causing a split of the season series between the rivals. However, the Badgers finished with a better record and won the regular season championship. That was followed up with a win against the Gophers in a rematch in the WCHA playoff championship. Wisconsin would head into NCAA play with both conference titles in hand, better than previous seasons.
The Badger women knocked off Mercyhurst in the opening NCAA game at home, setting up a Frozen Four rematch against, you guessed it, Minnesota. Despite winning three of the five prior games and despite holding a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, the Badgers lost in overtime and fell short in the same round to the same rival for the third straight season, amazingly.
Junior goalkeeper Ann-Renee Desbiens was the new star of the team, and she will return following a season filled with top individual honors. Seven seniors from last season depart, but Wisconsin under coach Mark Johnson has been able to keep reloading this program. Expect Wisconsin to be competitive at the top end of the WCHA once again this year.
(Celebrating a conference championship for the first time in two decades, photo courtesy UWBadgers.com)
Call this the comeback kids season for coach Paula Wilkins and the Badger women’s soccer team. The 2015 season kicked off with a very rough start in non-conference play, resulting in a 3-3-2 record before Big Ten play. That was made worse by a 4-0 road loss at Penn State to start in the conference.
With the season seemingly on the brink, Wilkins gathered her team and demanded that they figure out who they wanted to be. A dominant defense is apparently the answer to that inquiry, as a scoreless tie and then 8 straight victories followed that speech.
Even more impressively, the Badgers surrendered only 2 total goals in that 9-game stretch, both to Michigan in a 3-2 win. The streak finally came to a close in the season finale against Northwestern, but an 8-2-1 record was good enough to share the conference championship for the first time since 1994.
The good times did not last, however, as the postseason was a short one. Despite hosting OSU in the first round of the conference tournament, Wisconsin lost that game and did not merit an invite to the NCAA tournament. That gives the program more room to grow beyond just trying to repeat as conference champions in 2016.
Wisconsin returns nearly all of the star players from this championship season, including Rose Lavelle, who was 1st team All-Conference following 17 points. Victoria Pickett (freshman of the year), Brianna Stelzer, and Caitlyn Clem won second team honors and all are back as well. Assuming the Badgers play as well on defense with all this experience back, another championship should not take 20 more years to achieve.
Men’s Track & Field (and Zach Ziemek)
(Ziemek, photo courtesy UWBadgers.com)
Thanks to the leadership of fifth-year senior Zach Ziemek, the Wisconsin track and field teams were competitive both in outdoor and indoor season. These were highlighted on a team level by a 2nd place team finish at the indoor Big Ten Championships.
What happened next is what made this athlete and the T&F team make this list. Ziemek set a Big Ten conference record with 6173 points in the heptathlon, and that was more than good enough to win an individual national championship. This is actually the seventh-best collegiate score in history, so Ziemek heads out on top of his game.
The team was not able to secure the same level of success in the outdoor season. The team finished 8th in the Big Ten Championships. Then Ziemek performed well again in the outdoor version of his all-around event, the decathlon, but he ended up in 2nd place in the NCAA Championships.
A few weeks later, Ziemek (called Double Z) improved on his final performance as a collegian by putting up even more points and finishing third at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Now he will be one of three former Badgers to represent his country in track and field events at the Rio Olympics.
Without him, this team has a lot of room to grow for next season to be competitive in the Big Ten. However, this summer will allow Badger fans to take even more pride in their individual champion, Double Z. Good luck in Brazil.
Be sure to continue to support and enjoy these other achievements that the student athletes are bringing home to Badgers fans now and in the near future.
Stay tuned as we next turn the ATC article series to Indiana. Also, check out previous 2016 ATC articles already done (Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue, Maryland, Nebraska). Have a great week!