In its 16th year as a varsity program, Wisconsin softball is a lackluster brand. The last time the Badgers had a winning conference record or were competitive in the Big Ten was 2005. Coach Chandelle Schulte was fired a year ago after three straight feeble campaigns, including two last-place conference finishes.
Even when the weather is nice, a UW softball game is off the radar for local sports fans. When it's lousy, as it often is, attracting fans to Goodman Diamond is nearly impossible. Just 264 hearty souls braved howling winds blowing off Lake Mendota two weeks ago to see the Badgers lose to conference-leading Michigan.
But as this year's season comes to a close, there's cause for hope. First-year coach Yvette Healy has led Wisconsin to an overall record of 28-23. The team will lose only two players from this year's roster to graduation, although one is leadoff hitter Jennifer Krueger, named Big Ten player of the week on May 2. As with baseball, pitchers are vitally important, and Wisconsin's roster includes two freshmen and a sophomore.
Ohio State, occupying last place in the Big Ten, comes to town for the two-game season finale this weekend. If they beat the Buckeyes in both games, the Badgers could leapfrog Minnesota in the standings and end up tied with Iowa for sixth place in the Big Ten, a respectable accomplishment.
Friday's game, scheduled for 5 p.m., will be televised on the Big Ten Network. Rain is in the forecast.