Spring proves fruitful for Wisconsin
AJ MACLEAN/Herald photoWhen the Wisconsin women’s tennis team took to the courts of the Nielson Tennis Stadium Jan. 28 to play Northern Illinois, the Badgers were ranked No. 48 in the country. The spring season was a blank slate before the squad with seemingly any number of potential outcomes, and optimism abounded.At the conclusion of that weekend, with a 7-0 win over NIU and a 4-3 victory at the expense of Colorado the following day, head coach Patti Henderson personified that very optimism, commenting of her squad, “They’re only going to get better as the season goes on.”Over three months later, such words of hope seem to have hardly been misplaced. The Badgers are now ranked No. 34 in the polls, having peaked at No. 33 not too long ago, and with a 15-8 record on the season — including a 7-5 performance against Big Ten opponents — the team appears likely to receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.For Wisconsin, the toughest task of the season was clearly claiming the elusive doubles point and jumping out to a 1-0 lead going into singles play. Though they won it during both of their opening weekend matches, they would only claim it once in the following six matches. When the Badgers completed their home season with a 4-3 win over Purdue on Senior Day, they had only won nine out of 20 doubles points and only three of those victories came in Big Ten play.“We haven’t won enough doubles points,” Henderson said in early April.But with a few mid-season lineup tweaks and a little time for players to get used to their new partners, the Badgers would finish strong, claiming their last four doubles points including a pair in the Big Ten tournament.The final point would bring this tumultuous aspect of the season full circle, as Wisconsin went up against No. 5 Northwestern. Though the Badgers would lose 4-1 on the day, that single point would come from doubles — and it was highlighted by Wisconsin’s top flight pairing of Katie McGaffigan and Caitlin Burke, unranked, knocking off the then-No. 1 national team of Audra Cohen and Cristelle Grier.On the singles court, the spring season has been a tale of passing the torch. Seniors Katie McGaffigan and Lindsay Martin have proven team leaders throughout the campaign, with McGaffigan being ranked for most of the spring — including a stint at No. 53 — and Martin claiming a mid-season win streak and several clutch victories. But the Badgers’ younger stars have stepped up, with Caitlin Burke now ranked No. 85 and having filled the top singles slot for a weekend road trip in early April.Freshman Chelsea Nusslock has also shined, at one point laying claim to an eight-game win streak, a then-team high on the season only to be eclipsed when sophomore Kaylan Caiati laid down nine consecutive victories in a demonstration of her own prowess on the court.The gut of the season proved the most successful portion for the Badgers, as the squad claimed six straight wins between Feb. 26 and April. 1. That collection of victories would give the team enough fuel to withstand splitting their final three weekend affairs without ever taking a substantial hit in the polls. In fact, despite being in fifth place in the Big Ten at the start of the conference tournament, Wisconsin claimed the third highest ranking of the 11 teams.Following a tournament win against Illinois and the aforementioned semifinal match against Northwestern, in which the Badgers claimed the doubles point and appeared poised to nab a duo of singles points had play not been stopped after the deciding match, Wisconsin is now the second-highest ranked team in the Big Ten.And with all of that momentum headed into Wednesday’s NCAA Tournament selection announcements, the optimism of January seems to have been well placed after all.