After a strong start to the season (3-2-1), the Badgers hope to ride the momentum into their Big Ten opener Friday night in Bloomington against a tough Indiana team.
The Badgers will rely on their senior leaders Kelley Conway and Lauren Schmidt but also have aspirations of their underclassmen handling the pressures of the Big Ten opener. Going into the opener, the coaches are confident in this year’s team and believe this team is one that can make noise in the conference and on a national level.
“We have an explosive group that can and should put up strong offensive numbers,” said head coach Dean Duerst. “I think we certainly can compete for a Big Ten championship.”
Leading the team in assists is Jenny Kundert, who is tied for fourth in the conference with three assists after four games. The Badgers will need her offensive production to continue, along with the help of midfielder Schidt, if Wisconsin is to succeed in the heavily competitive conference.
Defensively, Wisconsin need not look any further than its star goalkeeper Conway, who already had a shutout and became the Badgers’ all-time saves leader against Marquette Tuesday night. She, along with her other defensive mates, will need to shore up the defensive side of the field and keep the Badgers in games with a chance to win.
Badger fans should expect to see an improved product on the field this season and a more offensive-minded squad than last year’s team, which managed only 21 goals.
The Badgers have installed new offensive schemes that coaches believe should open the offense up and allow a few more scoring opportunities for the team.
“We expect to be stronger offensively,” said Duerst. “But everything starts from the defensive side of the field.”
As with any team sport, the ability to mesh with teammates and know everyone is on the same page is vital to success. Duerst believes this team has found that key ingredient and expects it to thrive because of it.
“Our team chemistry is one of the things I’m most excited about,” said Duerst. “The team has come together, and I think we can have a special season.”
In a conference that features so many powerful teams, the Badgers believe they have the recipe for success.
“Many teams in this conference are very one-dimensional,” said Duerst. “This year’s Badger team brings a multi-dimensional product to the field, and we should be able to use that to our advantage.”
Indiana comes into Friday night’s game looking to keep its two-game winning streak alive. It will look to star forward Shelly Gruszka to supply the offensive attack. Gruszka has had a strong start to the season with four goals and six assists and will look to continue her hot play this weekend.
Coming off a sub-.500 2001 campaign, the Badgers are well aware of how important early-season success can be. Kicking off the Big Ten season with a strong performance could do wonders for this team and allow it to make a run at a conference title.
“Early on we need to improve each game, and success will only help toward putting our team in the right frame of mind,” said Duerst.
Clearly, the confidence surrounding this year’s team is apparent; players and coaches now hope that the confidence might turn into a magical run toward a championship.