For some, there’s an unexpected leader atop goals and points for the Big Ten conference this season; but for Badger fans? It’s a name they are very familiar with. Emma Jaskaniec, a senior for Wisconsin, finished the 2022 season with 10 goals and 24 points atop the Big Ten leaderboards despite missing out on the final three and a half games of the regular season due to injury. Jaskaniec has always been a household name for the Wisconsin Badgers, but this season, she was on fire.
From a very young age, Jaskaniec knew that she wanted to play college soccer. “My mom always tells me the story that when I was, I think it was in like fourth or fifth grade maybe even younger than that,” Jaskaniec said. “And I was like, do I just tell the college coaches that I want a scholarship? And she goes, Yeah Emma, you do that.” But once the recruiting process started, Jaskaniec always knew that being a Badger was her dream. As a fourth-generation Badger, she committed to Wisconsin at the age of 14, the beginning of her freshman year of high school. “Looking back on it, I'm so thankful I did, because this place is amazing, and the people and just the experiences I've had here have been, like, unreal.”
Jaskaniec started with the Badgers in 2019 for her freshman season, starting 21 out of 22 games during the year. She tallied two goals in her freshman campaign, both game-winners, setting herself up for a career of clutch goals. She was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. Jaskaniec’s freshman season was the same year current Gotham FC midfielder, Victoria Pickett, missed the entire season with a knee injury. This injury, although devastating for Pickett, allowed Jaskaniec to insert herself into a starting and key role for the Badgers. This was the season when the Badgers most recently won the Big Ten regular-season title, and still to this day is one of Emma Jaskaniec’s favorite memories, “That was like, the coolest experience I've ever had. But when we won the Big 10, it wasn’t like a game that we won, it was kind of just good overall [season].”
Jaskaniec’s sophomore campaign was impacted due to COVID-19 pushing into the spring of 2021 as well as shortening the season significantly. Despite this, Jaskaniec started every game and was a key contributor to the Badger’s run to the Big Ten championship game, their first appearance since 2014. In the semifinal of the tournament, Jaskaniec scored the goal to send the game into overtime against no. 22 Rutgers. The game was played at Penn State and had every type of weather you could imagine, sun, rain, snow, and hail. Against a very good Rutgers team, the Badgers made it to the final minutes tied 1-1 after Rutgers hit the “double-doinker,” and that’s when Emma J made her impact, “And so with about, three minutes left in the game, we took a corner kick. And somehow, it literally just ended up at my foot. And I was inside the box. I just turned it, I don't even remember, it's a blur, but I just remember hitting as hard as I could. And it upper 90’ed into the goal,” Jaskaniec recalled. “It was crazy. Like, everybody went insane. And then we ended up winning the game 2-1 and going to the championship which we lost, which was not fun”
Although the team fell to Iowa, the story was still written. The Badgers' return to the final proved just how instrumental Jaskaniec is to the success of the team. Fans saw it again throughout the 2021 season as Jaskaniec started every game, totaling 2,077 minutes on the season. She led the team with nine goals and four assists on the season.
As you watch Jaskaniec, you can tell she’s not your average midfielder. She fills the gaps wherever there might be one. During the 2021 season, the Badgers struggled with offensive production but had one of the best defenses in the NCAA. During some of their worst offensive droughts, you could have found Jaskaniec pushed higher up the field, playing as an attacking midfielder or false 9 to help out Claire Odmark, the Badgers starting forward. This season, we have seen Jaskaniec all over the pitch. In games where Wisconsin needs more defensive stability, she can be seen dropping back into the defensive midfielder hole, especially without Macy Monticello this season. But in that same game, you could see her pushed high to help create and serve balls into the box.
One big change for the Badgers this season is a switch to a 3-5-2 formation allowing center-back Aidan McConnell to hit people with her quality long balls into the box. With freshman Rylee Howard making runs alongside Jaskaniec, there are more people in the box, giving McConnell more options and allowing the Badgers a better chance on goal. “I think we just had different-minded players on the field who want to attack and, I mean, we've always had good attackers, but the 'want' and the skill that I think our front five brought this year is something we hadn't seen before, which is super exciting. And I loved it,” Jaskaniec said when asked about the difference in the offense this year, compared to previous years where the Badgers struggled to score in any given game. “And also, I was telling Maddie [Ishuag] this the other day. And she always sits in [and] that allows me to go forward and stuff. So without her like, I definitely would not be able to do like what I do at all.”
On the pitch, it’s hard to miss Jaskaniec with her red hair and never-ending energy. She’s the heartbeat of this Wisconsin side. Even when she’s not scoring, she’s playing the role of assister, setting her teammates up. But when she is scoring, she will be the first to give them the credit. “I definitely think that I cannot take credit for the goals that I scored and the points that I had,” Jaskaniec said. “My teammates have been so beyond believable this year.”
While Jaskaniec will give credit to her teammates, she needs to take credit herself as she has made sure that this year would be one of her bests through her mentality and it being her senior year, she worked hard to make sure she would leave on top.
“I guess I just put it in my head at the beginning of the year. I was like, This is gonna be like my year, and it wasn't even like I wanted to score a bunch of goals. I just wanted to win. I remember my freshman year winning the Big 10, and how cool that feeling was. And I was like, I am not leaving here without another ring like it's not happening,” Jaskaniec said. “So I was trying to do everything in my power to like help the team and I guess my role just started becoming like scoring some goals and stuff. And that's just what I knew I needed to bring every game so I think as the season progressed, I just knew that I had to put myself in positions because that's how I was gonna help the team.”
Beyond that, Jaskaniec has played her final games with teammates she has been with since she arrived in Madison. The senior class consists of Natalie Viggiano, Izzy Verdugo, Lily Rawnsley, Claire Odmark, Macy Monticello, Erin McKinney, Gabby Green, and of course, Jaskaniec. This year felt bigger for Jaskaniec; she was playing for more than herself because she has such a strong connection with her teammates.
“This year, I know that I'm never gonna get to play with some of these people again, which is like, a hard pill to swallow. But I was like, I know, I need to do everything in my power to make this season special.”
In the Badgers’ recent road trip, as they faced Penn State, the unthinkable happened. Emma Jaskaniec collided hard with a defender, her left knee taking the brunt of the collision. She stayed on the ground, clearly in pain as the Badgers’ medical staff rushed out onto the field. As Jaskaniec was lifted off the ground to her feet, she tried to walk it off but the pain was much worse than it seemed she thought as the initial step saw her face wince in pain. As Jaskaniec left the field of play, you could see the looks of sadness across each of her teammates’ faces after losing the heart and soul of their team.
Her impact became even clearer as the Badgers continued to face the Nittany Lions, struggling with offensive production and in the midfield. As the Badgers faced Rutgers on Sunday, October 16, 2022, the commentary team stated that Paula Wilkins, Badger head coach, said her players were more upset about the loss of their heartbeat in Emma Jaskaniec rather than their second Big Ten loss of the year against Penn State. In two straight games, the Badgers failed to score, as they fell to 5-3 on the season after losing all three games on their East Coast road trip. The Badgers continued to struggle throughout the season, tying Illinois 0-0 and falling to Penn State 1-0 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Despite her Badger career ending in such tragic fashion, Jaskaniec’s time at Wisconsin will never be forgotten as she has left a lasting legacy. She has given her heart and soul to this program which was seen in her play and her impact on her teammates. It is clear the impact Emma had on the field this season. After her injury, the Badgers failed to score in the remainder of the Penn State game and in either game against Rutgers and Illinois. After scoring in all games, minus their opener, prior to Jaskaniec’s injury, it tangibly shows just how important she was this season to the team’s offensive success. And it’s not just her play, it’s her attitude. In some players, you can feel their personalities on the field, and Jaskaniec is one of those players. And she agrees, “I think you're like very right about that. I think how I play in the field is a lot like who I am as a person, like, I just always have energy.”
But for Jaskaniec, it’s making sure she brings positive energy even when she’s having a bad day, especially as a team leader. “I know that my coach always says that you affect the people around you. So I'm like, I don't want to bring bad energy, even if I'm having a bad day. I know that it's gonna like affect the team, especially because I am a leader on the team,” said Jaskaniec. “So I need to bring good energy, which is normally pretty easy. But even when I'm having a bad day, and then I bring the energy I always make feel like it makes me feel better, too. So I'm like, why not do it?”
Outside of sport, Emma Jaskaniec is mental health advocate on the UW campus, having done work with Uncut Madison, a non-profit organization that emphasizes the human in student-athletes and empowers them to share their stories. But like most, it wasn’t easy for her to admit that she needed help at first. “I always lied about it. I was always super anxious,” Jaskaniec admitted. “But I was like, oh, like, that's just what every athlete has performance anxiety, and feeling the pressure, just all that stuff. I was like, oh, I don't need to talk to anybody.”
Yet similar to many, Covid was when Jaskaniec started to take mental health seriously and started getting help and talking to someone. She found a coping mechanism n mediation as well. While that first step for many people is scary, Jaskaniec’s advice is going to talk to someone, whether it be a licensed therapist or simply someone you can trust. She has found that through her time at UW and after Covid, mental health is less stigmatized in Madison, and rather people are celebrated for reaching out and asking for the help they need.
Jaskaniec finished her senior year by adding “2022 Big Ten Midfielder of the Year” to her resume, as well as Big Ten First Team. Despite never being selected for any weekly awards, Jaskaniec proved throughout this season that she deserves this award; especially after missing the final three games of the season and still finishing first in goals and points. It proves how spectacular of a season Emma J had this year.
Jaskaniec plans to stay one more year in Madison, finishing her degree in marketing and sports communications. Will we see Jaskaniec in a professional league someday? As of right now, she’s uncertain about what her future holds with soccer but stay on the lookout because if she decides to continue playing, she's going to come back even stronger.
Emma Jaskaniec is the epitome of a Wisconsin Badger: fierce, positive, a leader, hard-working, and proud. She will leave behind a legacy in Madison, one that will never be forgotten as it’s hard to forget a player that always has the most energy and the biggest impact on the pitch. While Jaskaniec isn’t at the top of any national lists, she has been at the top of the team sheet for the Badgers for the past four years. Her play has been integral to the success of the team and she would definitely give all the credit to her teammates, but her impact will never be lost. Oh, and a final note to her teammates, let Emma J call it a bubbler! “In Wisconsin, I should be allowed to call it a bubbler and it should be correct. Yeah, and that's what I say about that.”