Wisconsin was one of the first schools to call Crystal Lake South's Brooke Kuffel after Sept. 1. When the Gators rising shortstop went on her first official visit to Madison, Wisconsin, she felt instantly connected.
"The environment there is amazing," Kuffel said. "In Madison, everyone cheers for Wisconsin. They’re all in for Wisconsin. I really liked the girls there. They were all really relatable, and the coaches are amazing.
"It’s just the perfect fit, and I knew when I stepped on campus, that’s where I wanted to be."
Kuffel announced her commitment to the NCAA Division I Badgers and softball coach Yvette Healy via Twitter on Wednesday. Kuffel joins Johnsburg junior Kate Linkletter and Richmond-Burton senior Peyton Bannon as future softball players at Wisconsin.
Linkletter announced her commitment to the Badgers less than two weeks ago while Bannon committed to Wisconsin when she was a sophomore. In April 2018, the NCAA Division I Council passed legislation prohibiting coaches from contacting recruits before Sept. 1 of their junior year.
Kuffel, now a junior, Linkletter and Bannon play on the same travel team, Illinois Chill Gold. That familiarity helped make Kuffel's decision a little easier, she said.
"I think it’s cool that Wisconsin is looking at the midwest and kind of keeping it in an area," she said. "They’re able to find good players here in the midwest that don’t get to play year round as much, but have the same talent and are able to compete against some of the best teams in the country."
Kuffel also had offers from Illinois, Rutgers, DePaul, Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio).
Kuffel had committed to Loyola as a freshman when Jeff Tylka, who was Loyola's head coach at the time, offered Kuffel a college scholarship. But Tylka's contract wasn't renewed after the 2019 season, leaving Kuffel's future with the Ramblers in limbo.
Loyola did reach out to Kuffel after Sept. 1.
"They wanted me back on campus, but I thought, I wanted to keep my options open," Kuffel said. "I think that, not that the ship had sailed, but I think I wanted something bigger. When I made the decision (to go to Loyola) so early, I didn't really know what I wanted."
The Badgers went 43-14 last season and 15-8 in the Big Ten for fifth place. Wisconsin earned its third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and lost to No. 1-ranked Oklahoma to end the season.
Kuffel said Wisconsin "felt like home."
"They’re very family oriented, and I know family is really big for me," Kuffel said. "I already feel like I’m a part of their family, and they’re a part of mine. My grandma went on my visit ... and she and the assistant coach (Danielle Zymkowitz) hit it off. I get texts from Coach Z asking about my grandma all the time."
Kuffel was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection last season, hitting .429 with 13 home runs, nine doubles, 64 runs and 52 RBIs. South finished 31-3, winning its first Fox Valley Conference outright championship since 1986 and first regional title since 2008.
The Gators' season ended with a 5-4, eight-inning loss to Sycamore in a Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional semifinal. Kuffel expects to pitch more this year, with the graduation of Christina Toniolo, now at Illinois-Chicago. Toniolo was one of seven seniors on the Gators.
Kuffel is looking forward to her final two seasons at South, and beyond.
"I’m just excited to travel and play against different teams and build a new family with the girls at Wisconsin," Kuffel said. "I've made some of my best friends from playing softball and I’m excited to meet new people."