University of Wisconsin women's soccer commit Delaney Cox flashed back to the first girls soccer scrimmage of her sophomore year at Madison Memorial.
Cox was eager for that season and to play against Madison West that day because her freshman year in the spring of 2020 had been wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Cox feared the worst after absorbing contact on a play.
“When I fell I knew it was something with my knee,” she said. “The first thing that came into my head was college soccer. `What was going to happen?’’’
A torn ACL in her left knee ended Cox’s sophomore season before it really began.
People are also reading…
She was concerned that she was missing prime recruiting time and that her hopes to play in college would be hampered.
“I missed out on my first two high school seasons and then I missed out on my junior year of club (soccer),” Cox, a senior, said. “I came back to high school (soccer) junior year, but it took me awhile to get back into it.”
Madison Memorial girls soccer coach Catherine Patton had particular insight because she had ACL injuries to both her knees. Patton realized what Cox faced during her recovery journey.
Patton watched how Cox walked as the process continued, noticing at one point a hitch in her step and a lack of flexibility. But during Cox’s junior season — in early May, 2022 — Patton could begin to see full flexibility coming back.
“I think that’s when my confidence also started coming back,” Cox said. “It took me a little bit mentally to get back into the game, too.”
The 5-foot-5 Cox, a forward for the Spartans, came back and earned first-team all-conference honors in the Big Eight Conference and honorable-mention selection on the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association All-State team last year. She totaled 15 goals and nine assists in 18 games in 2022 and also was back on the recruiting radar.
She said she had stayed in contact with Badgers coach Paula Wilkins. Cox made her verbal commitment to UW last August and UW announced a nine-player class in December, 2022.
“I am so excited,” said the 18-year-old Cox, who hopes to study business in college, possibly real estate or marketing. “I know it’s going to be a big challenge and a lot of change. But I’m ready for it.”
She acknowledged that the road to recovery wasn’t easy, particularly being sidelined from a sport she’d played a long time. Cox played softball (usually as a second baseman) and soccer growing up, beginning in club soccer in third grade, she said.
“I love the contact aspect of soccer,” she said. “Softball wasn’t like that. It was a different kind of sport. I like the fast-paced games.”
That made not playing difficult.
“Soccer was the main part of my life for a while and then it completely stopped," she said. "My injury was contact, so coming back into a contact sport was mentally tough, but I saw a sports psychologist, which helped me a lot.”
She put in 10 months of hard work during the rehabilitation, although she said not seeing immediate results — while anticipated — was frustrating.
“But at the beginning, the rehab is the most important,” Cox said. “Obviously, being positive about it all is one of the hardest things. But it is one of the most important things.”
Patton said she advised Cox to stay positive and follow the directions of the doctors, trainers and physical therapists. That was crucial and would lead to the rehab’s success, Patton said.
“Another one of the big mental things was the fear of re-injury,” Cox said. “One of my main goals was to play Division I soccer and I tore my ACL right before the recruiting was going to pick up. So, I missed out on that. Junior year was a big year for recruiting and I missed out on that. So, when I came back, it was important for me to show (her ability). I didn’t have much time and the fear of re-injury was scary.”
She eventually regained her form.
“I knew I didn’t have that much time, but I played as I usually do and everything worked out,” she said.
Cox, with outstanding speed and technical ability, plays center forward on top of the formation for the Spartans.
“I feel our team uses me to play the ball off and run through because speed is one of my strengths,” she said.
Patton said Cox demonstrates “proactive movement.”
“She will leave early and get a step on her defenders … which is awesome,” Patton said. “She is really good on the dribble. She is a breakaway expert.”
Cox and Madison West junior forward and UW recruit Abbey Stanton recently shared the same field for a Big Eight game at MATC’s Goodman Sports Complex.
“Playing against one of my future teammates is going to be very fun and exciting,” Cox said prior to that match, which West won 4-0.
10 names to know after Wisconsin football's spring practices
QB Braedyn Locke
Year: Redshirt freshman
Weight: 192 pounds
Projected role: No. 2 QB
What to know: The Mississippi State transfer is set to be the Badgers’ backup quarterback behind Southern Methodist transfer Tanner Mordecai, but the gap between Locke and QB1 isn’t as wide as most thought. Locke is a smart decision-maker, accurate with the football and reads defenses well.
Notable quote: “He is the model of consistency and he's gotten better with each practice,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “And he has a tremendous — he and Tanner probably had the best overall understanding of the offense and just the game of football in general.”
RB Cade Yacamelli
Year: Redshirt freshman
Weight: 210 pounds
Projected role: In the mix for No. 3 running back
What to know: Yacamelli spent the first half of last season at safety before taking over as scout team running back. His speed, agility and receiving ability — UW once thought he could play receiver for the Badgers — make him an interesting changeup behind between-the-tackles runners like Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi. Yacamelli will be competing with a handful of others for limited RB3 reps.
Notable quote: “Cade, obviously, he's a tremendous athlete,” running back Grover Bortolotti said. “In the winter, he was just off the charts whether it be with speed or strength. He's a guy that's just a freak. Yeah, he hasn't played a lot of running back here, but he's definitely picking it up really well and he's eager to learn. The dude’s always in the playbook trying to learn, get better. So big things ahead for him, for sure.”
C Jake Renfro
Year: Redshirt junior
Weight: 316 pounds
Projected role: Starting center
What to know: Renfro only got through four spring practices before injuring his left foot/ankle, but he proved to be fairly indispensable — UW had inconsistent center-to-quarterback play since Renfro went down. He’s got impressive upper body strength and a good first step off the ball. His recovery would make the entire offensive line better.
Notable quote: “What's stood out to me about him, not even as a football player, just kind of as a guy, I was here when he took a visit,” left tackle Jack Nelson said. “And I kind of showed him around, and it was almost like instantaneous, like he was one of the guys. This O-line group was super, super tight, and it was almost like he's always been here. He just really came in, bought in.”
TE Jack Pugh
Year: Redshirt sophomore
Weight: 252 pounds
Projected role: In the mix for No. 1 tight end
What to know: UW’s new offensive system needs a vertical threat up the seam. Longo likes to use tight ends in this role because their size can create mismatches that defenses can’t handle, and Pugh looks like he may have the tools to fit this role. Injuries hampered his path to the field his first two years, but he’s got a chance to be a weapon in the Air Raid.
Notable quote: "I think he gives the balance of the ability to play a little bit out in space but also the balance to be inside and to be a pretty physical blocker,” Fickell said. “He's done nothing but do an incredible job in the winter through all the workout stuff, and then obviously coming out here every practice so far, he’s answered the bell. He plays tough.”
WR Keontez Lewis
Weight: 187 pounds
Projected role: No. 3 outside receiver
What to know: Lewis was the Badgers’ best and most-targeted deep threat last season, and his speed undoubtedly will be used to challenge defenses this fall. But he showed a wider range of skill and route-running ability this spring, particularly on the quick hitch routes that are meant to be catch-and-run opportunities for receivers.
Notable quote: “He's done a great job of catching contested balls,” Fickell said. “I think I've been as impressed with that as anything. Staying on your feet after some of those things, I think is the next step to it. But I think that's not just an athletic thing, that's just a confidence thing. And I think that the more and more that he does and we do with him through the spring and then into fall, I think he'll gain more and more of that confidence to stay on his feet to turn those really good plays into great plays.”
DL Darian Varner
Year: Redshirt junior
Weight: 278 pounds
Projected role: No. 3 defensive end
What to know: Varner didn’t get to show what he could do this spring as he recovered from a lower-leg injury, but his tape shows a lightning-fast rusher who has played all over the line. That skill set will fit perfectly with what Mike Tressel wants to do with the Badgers’ defense, and Varner brings proven pass rushing to a defensive line that is weakest in that area.
Notable quote: “I see him being a guy that can help us with a little bit more explosion, a little bit more pop, a little bit more quickness,” Fickell said. “He's different probably than some of the other guys that we've got that we’ll play with. But that variety gives us a chance to do some other things.”
ILB Jake Chaney
Weight: 233 pounds
Projected role: No. 3 inside linebacker
What to know: Chaney earned playing time last season in part because of his nose for the ball and his closing speed, and he continued to show those skills this spring. He spent most of his time working with the second defense, but Chaney was with the starting unit in the three-inside-linebacker groupings Tressel experimented with. Expect him to have a role in the rotation this season.
Notable quote: “He’s a 1, right?” Tressel said. “You can start saying, ‘Wait a second, how could there be more than two 1s?’ But he's a 1, and he's really impressed me because he has the ability to be really heavy-handed where he shocks offensive linemen and you see them stumble back 3 yards, and the next play slip them and make a play in the backfield.”
OLB Jeff Pietrowski Jr.
Year: Redshirt junior
Weight: 244 pounds
Projected role: No. 2 boundary outside linebacker, with a chance to start
What to know: The Michigan State transfer missed a little more than half of the spring after contracting mononucleosis, but he was impressive when he returned to the field the last three weeks of practices. His get-off is among the best of all the Badgers’ OLBs, and he has strong hand-fighting skills from his time as a defensive end with the Spartans.
Notable quote: “He is really on point with alignments and assignments,” OLBs coach Matt Mitchell said, “and he can see if a player makes a mistake. He's been a great teammate, pulling guys off to the side and really trying to help them out. So he's doing a little bit more one-on-one leading.”
CB Jason Maitre
Year: Redshirt senior
Weight: 188 pounds
Projected role: Starting nickelback
What to know: Homing in on one position was one of the benefits Maitre found upon his transfer from Boston College to UW. He played all over the defensive backfield for the Eagles, but the Badgers are asking him to lock down the top nickelback spot and be a stopper when offenses put their top receivers in the slot.
Notable quote: “Jason's a great player,” senior corner Alexander Smith said. “He shows it every day. We knew he was a great player coming from Boston College, but really just honing in on the details of the defense and the techniques. And at this point in our career, you play so much ball, it’s the little things that he needs to work on everyday, that we all need to work on every day, and I think that's what he's trying to hone in on.”
S Hunter Wohler
Weight: 211 pounds
Projected role: No. 1 boundary safety/dollar
What to know: The line above was difficult to fill because Wohler is going to be all over the field for the Badgers defense. He’s been seen covering deep halves as a safety, patrolling the middle of the field at linebacker depth and used as a blitzer this spring. He’s poised for his most productive season yet in a UW uniform.
Notable quote: “Him having really good football instincts allows him to play a little bit closer, still see it happen and react very quickly,” Tressel said. “You also have seen in the past that he's comfortable being up there close to the core and taking on blocks, and he's a physical, strong tackler. So what we're able to do with him a little bit, I would call it a hybrid position, but there's times and calls where he's gonna seem a little bit more like a true linebacker. There's times and calls where he's doing safety things. We're able to mix up some of the blitz paths from those types of positions that you might not be able to do without an obvious tell when he's coming from a normal safety (depth).”