Looking to end a three-game losing streak, the UW women’s soccer team (5-5-1, 1-3-0) will take on Illinois (6-2-1, 2-0-1) tonight at the McClimon Soccer Complex.
After losses to Michigan and Michigan State dropped Wisconsin’s conference record to 1-3, the Badgers need some momentum to get back in the Big Ten race.
“We need something to turn us around right now,” head coach Dean Duerst said. “We need a momentum starter and this is it, Friday night.”
The Badgers will need a strong offensive performance against an Illinois team that has not allowed a goal against a Big Ten opponent this season.
“It’s exciting for us to be the first one to score against them, the first one to beat them,” Duerst said. “What we’re looking at is how exciting that will be, to score against them and to beat them.”
Illinois goalkeeper Leisha Alcia leads the Big Ten in goals allowed (four), goals against average (0.44) and shutouts (five). She has posted a school record of five-consecutive shutouts, holding opponents scoreless for 470 minutes of game time. The talented goalkeeper has not surrendered a goal since Sept. 7.
“She’s one of the best,” Duerst said. “But we’ve seen her before. She allows her defense to make a lot of good plays and then she’ll come up with the important decisions that she needs to. We face keepers like that all the time.”
Alcia and her Illini defense will test a Wisconsin squad that has scored just one goal in its last three games. In four conference games, the Badgers have recorded just three goals and suffered two shutouts.
“You have to ask your leaders to step up,” Duerst said. “You have to ask your offense to be better around the goal, to have better services, to continue to create all the danger we are, but just start to finish. We don’t need to score pretty goals, we just need to score.”
Offensively, Illinois will look to forward Tara Hurless, who leads the Illini in goals (four), points (10) and shots on goal (18). Drawing on past experience, the Wisconsin defense will try to deny Hurless the ball and keep the Illini playmaker away from the net.
“Our team has played against her,” Duerst said. “They know she’s fairly dynamic. When she’s around the ball, we need to be ready. Our team defense is what’s important in terms of shutting out some very dangerous players. Don’t let her get the ball, and when she has it just swarm her.”
Behind strong performances from Alcia and Hurless, Illinois has gone undefeated in Big Ten play and currently enjoys a five-game unbeaten streak. The Illini are ranked third in the Big Ten, five spots ahead of eighth-ranked Wisconsin.
However, the Badgers have had success against Illinois during the Duerst era. Wisconsin defeated the Illini twice last year, in the regular season and the Big Ten tournament. Since Duerst took over as head coach in 1994, Wisconsin has posted a 5-2 record against Illinois.
With history on their side, the Badgers will look to jump out to an early lead and avoid the slow starts that have plagued them this season.
“They know that they need to start games better,” Duerst said. “They need to come out with more emotion. We need to get a little bit more out of everybody to get results right now.”
After losing three critical conference games by a combined margin of just four goals, the Badgers are determined to come away with a win tonight.
“Everyone really wants it now more than ever, so it should be a good game,” defender Stacy Omundson said. “We’re going to come out strong.”