NCAA Womens Tennis

Baggot: The strength of this team is in their unity

Baggot: The strength of this team is in their unity


Taylor Cataldi has a black belt in karate, bold streaks of cardinal red in her hair, and mentions visits to Ireland and Zimbabwe in her bio for the Wisconsin women’s tennis team, but when asked to ID the most fascinating member of the squad, she says it’s not her.

“I’m probably No. 2 on that list,” she acknowledged with a grin.

Who then? Β 

Is it Xinyu Cai, a graduate student from China who set the program record for the best winning percentage in singles competition at .894 (17-2) last season and is 9-2 this season, hitting primarily fourth?

How about Alina Mukhortova, a senior from Krasnodar, Russia, who went 18-3 playing doubles with Cai last season?

Is it Maria Sholokhova, a sophomore from Sochi, Russia, who was named Big Ten Conference player of the week last week and is on a 13-match win streak?

Or how about Rosie Garcia Gross, a grad student from New York City, who won 52 matches at Georgia Tech before transferring to UW and currently is unbeaten (8-0), hitting out of the sixth spot?

Turns out, the unofficial designee is a junior psychology major from Coconut Creek, Florida, whose passions include writing poetry, volunteering, mental health, and suicide prevention.

Ariel Johnson seems proud of her distinctive ways.

“Yes, I’m very loud,” she confirmed. “I come out of my shell when I play because I like to be loud.”

Most of her teammates agree.Β 

“When you think of someone you know is going to be completely unafraid and who you know is going to be themselves and help you to be yourself, I think you can point to her for that,” Cataldi said.

“She brings this energy every day,” Gross said. “You never know what’s going to come out of her mouth. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you entertained. She’s everywhere and nowhere all at once. I’ve never met anyone like her.”

While Johnson, who is 10-2 playing No. 4 or 5 singles, is OK with her billing, she believes everyone on the team has their own unique claim to fame.

“I think we’re all fascinating in our own way,” she said. “We have very different personalities, and we kind of all have to make them mesh well so we play well together. I think our backgrounds, our upbrings, are all different and add to the variety, the diversity, of the team.”

What might be the most fascinating aspect of the Badgers is their collective moxie, which has produced…

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