After a 3-3 overtime tie with Big Ten co-leader Penn State, the University of Wisconsin women’s soccer team is looking for a big win Friday when they travel to Michigan State. The 8-2-4 Spartans are a strong team led by a dangerous duo of forwards in senior Lauren Hill and sophomore Laura Heyboer.
Hill and Heyboer present a strong challenge to the Badgers’ defense, but Wisconsin is hoping their strategy will slow them down.
“Their game is getting through balls to their forwards because they have really quick and fast forwards,” senior defenseman Whitney Owusu said. “We just have to make sure that we don’t let them turn on us and don’t let them get many shots off.”
Even though Michigan State’s powerful offense is a major concern for the Badgers, the team doesn’t plan to make any major strategic changes for the game. This seems to have worked well so far, as the Badgers are currently third in the Big Ten conference behind Penn State and Ohio State.
“We have to do what we do well,” head coach Paula Wilkins said.
The two forwards are the foundation of the Spartans’ women’s soccer team, with Heyboer leading the team in points and Hill leading the team in goals. Heyboer was also the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 as a freshman, while Hill ranked second in the Big Ten in points last year behind Heyboer.
With such a strong frontline, the UW defense will play an especially crucial role in this game. Owusu outlined the Badgers’ plan defensively.
“Making sure that we track them (and) making sure that we try to prevent as many through balls as possible,” Owusu said.
Offensively, UW is looking to counter Michigan State’s highly-regarded offense with some offensive firepower of its own. The Badgers will rely on sophomore forward Laurie Nosbusch — the team leader in both goals and points — and freshman midfielder Alev Kelter for their offensive success.
“What’s going to be important is being able to keep the ball and getting around them on the outside and kind of opening them up,” Nosbusch said.
The talented forwards are Wisconsin’s biggest challenge in the game since they are such a constant scoring threat.
“I think we obviously need to be concerned with their forwards — they’re one of the best in the conference,” Wilkins said.
“We’re going to have to be able to shut [Heyboer and Hill] down and not get countered by them,” Nosbusch said.
Despite their explosive offense, the Spartans have had a difficult time winning in the Big Ten this year, compiling a 1-2-2 conference record. Wilkins does not believe their record does them justice, however, as the Spartans are a strong team all around.
“They’re very organized in their approach to the game,” she said.
Coming off a tough 1-0 loss to Big Ten rival Northwestern, the Spartans are looking forward to returning home to face the Badgers after a 1-1 road trip.
Another challenge presented to the Badgers in the game against Michigan State is the Spartans’ home field advantage, an aspect that has helped them throughout the year.
“They have a great record at home, and so we have to bring that energy and match it on the road,” Wilkins said.
“As long as we keep the communication up, then our team should be fine,” Owusu added.
An important conference game, a win against the Spartans can prove Wisconsin’s impressive 3-1-1 record in the Big Ten is not a fluke.
“It’s going to be a big game — really important for the Big Ten hunt and the NCAA Tournament,” Nosbusch said.
The game also has implications for the rest of the year as the Wisconsin looks to close out its last three regular season games — all against conference teams — on a strong note and improve on its 7-5-4 record.
“I’m excited for this game,” Owusu said. “We have been doing really well in the Big Ten, and I think if we can come out with two wins, we’ll be sitting really well.”