first_imgDo-it-all senior guard Alyssa Karel returns to lead UW after leading the team in points, assists, steals, blocks, and minutes last season, earning her an All-Big Ten honor.[/media-credit]Coming off a successful 20-win season and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002, the Wisconsin women’s basketball team has even higher expectations for this season.Those expectations are being enforced by the Badgers’ four senior leaders of Alyssa Karel, Tara Steinbauer, Lin Zastrow and Emily Neal. Each has played an important role in the development of this year’s squad.“[The seniors] have played a significant role in the transition of us heading upward,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “It’s only fair to say I will do everything in my power to help this be their best year yet.”Karel displayed much of her leadership on the floor by leading the team in points, assists, steals, blocks and minutes played last season. Although she was named to the 2010 All-Big Ten second team, Karel was not satisfied by the Badgers’ quick first round exit from the NCAA Tournament last year at the hands of the Vermont Catamounts.That sentiment of dissatisfaction with the conclusion of last season echoes throughout the locker room from coaches and players alike.“Our goal was to get to the NCAA Tournament, and we did that,” Karel said. “After that I think we were like, ‘OK, our job is done,’ and we just expected to continue playing the way we had been all year.”Two of Karel’s fellow senior leaders, Steinbauer and Zastrow, will look to take on strong leadership roles as well, but each approaches it with their own style. Steinbauer serves as an active and vocal leader, while Zastrow prefers to lead by example.“I mean it’s just being yourself and then bringing that energy and passion every day, and bringing that leadership as much as you can and in whatever way you can to the best of your abilities,” Zastrow said.The Badgers’ main goal this season is to win the Big Ten Championship and at least make it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. The road to reaching these goals includes a long list of necessary improvements, but it starts with one fundamental element: winning at home. Last season the Badgers lost five games at home, a mark they hope to improve on this year.A key up-and-coming player is sophomore Taylor Wurtz. Last season, Wurtz was Wisconsin’s best player off the bench and has earned a lot of praise from Stone.“[Wurtz] works harder than anybody in the building,” Stone said. “She is in the Kohl Center with a ball in her hand more than anybody I have ever seen, male [or] female, in all of my years. “She wants to be here, this is what she does.”Wurtz’s hard work has certainly paid off, as shown by her very impressive 27-point, 9-rebound and 3-assist performance against Big Ten rival Michigan last year.Coaches see endless potential in the versatile sophomore, who has the ability to play four different positions on the floor. Despite her multiple individual talents, Wurtz remains humble about her place on the team and stresses the devotion her and her teammates have to each other.“We are 100 percent committed to each other,” said Wurtz. “We are all willing to put [ourselves] on the line for another teammate. We serve each other in a selfless manner.”Wurtz’s humility is a reflection of the team’s overall attitude. The Badgers have emphasized that all 12 girls on the team are capable of playing meaningful minutes. While the Badgers may not have a bona fide star, the team-first approach will serve as a more than competent solution.The intense battles for playing time has helped sharpen the focus of this team, and the coaches have already seen the results in the energy shown throughout the preseason.“We have an appetite right now, and we’re practicing like that. The intensity level has stepped up; our expectations are much higher,” Stone said.Despite finishing third in the Big Ten last year, the Badgers have yet to gain some deserved respect from the media and fellow Big Ten schools, as they were not selected to finish in the top three this year. Motivation will have to play a key role in the Badgers’ season as they attempt to hang the first women’s basketball Big Ten Championship banner in the history of the program.“Our motivation comes from within. Our players are motivated to do more because we haven’t won a Big Ten championship yet, we haven’t advanced in the NCAA tournament, we haven’t hung a banner,” Stone said. “So we’re motivated by that.”last_img read more