A year ago, the Wisconsin women’s soccer team might have just brushed off a 0-3-1 start to the season.
That kind of mentality can surely spare a team from feeling pressure and urgency, but without a little extra push, it can also flounder in all the excuses.
“One of the difficult things was a lot of players put the results off on playing good teams,” head coach Paula Wilkins said of the 2009 season. “We had to take a step back and tell them that that rationalization is sort of a cop out.”
It would be easy to do that this year after losses against two top-five ranked teams, not to mention that none of those games were against Big Ten opponents.
So how are the Badgers handling their misfortune this year?
“I think the team is definitely under pressure by ourselves to win,” freshman Kodee Williams said. “We need to win. We have to win and we will win for sure.”
“Obviously, nobody likes to lose and we definitely shouldn’t have started off our season this way but we have a good attitude going into this weekend and it should be exciting.”
The Badgers begin the mission to straighten out their season today as they welcome South Dakota State (2-1-1) to the McClimon Soccer Complex in what will be the first meeting between the two schools.
While the Badgers look to pick themselves back up, the Jackrabbits enter the match on a two-game win streak. Last week, SDSU put back a clutch game-winner in double overtime against Nevada before sailing away with a 3-0 victory versus Montana.
After beginning the year 0-1-1 with senior Dani Pappas at goalkeeper, the Jackrabbits have opted to use freshman Elisa Stamatakis in the net over the last two games. After allowing two goals in her debut, Stamatakis managed to post a clean sheet in her second outing against Montana.
After scoring just one goal in its first four games, an inexperienced goalkeeper should provide an excellent opportunity for the Wisconsin offense to escape its goal drought. Aiding that campaign is junior forward Laurie Nosbusch, who returned to practice this week after receiving limited time before last week’s Washington Tournament.
Wilkins believes Nosbusch’s return to form will open up an offense she says has gone through a shortfall of initiative and ideas.
“I think we need to keep the ball more and get a little bit of a spark or intensity up there just to take the extra step and put [ourselves] into position to score,” she said. I don’t think we’re doing that exactly yet — we’re sort of waiting for other people to make decisions.”
UW spent the last week working on maintaining possession in the final third of the field as well as developing ideas to get numbers in the box.
But for Nosbusch, one of the biggest factors in the offense’s production rests with its mentality — specifically, excitement.
“We haven’t had too many scoring opportunities so far so I think the one thing we really need to work on this week is getting people excited, getting people forward and getting people in the box to be desperate to score a goal,” she said.
On the opposite side of the field, Wilkins remains pleased that the defense has only allowed one goal in the run of play, but a remedy is sorely needed to prevent goals coming off of set pieces, as four of the five goals allowed have occurred in such instances.
That remedy: Avoiding fouls that stem from sloppy play in the second half — which means fitness has become somewhat of a concern.
All five of Wisconsin’s conceded goals have occurred in the second period of play. The defense will need to remain as tireless as possible in order to repel a surging Jackrabbit offense that has converted all six of its goals in just the last two games.
For the Badgers, though, Wilkins said the focus of this past week remained fixed on their own team and a little less on the opponent. Once UW’s dull edges are sharpened, the Badgers expect to escape the hole they’ve found themselves in.
“For the most part in practice this week we’re just going to focus on ourselves,” Wilkins said. “We need to get a little bit better around the box and create more opportunities and I think if we do that then we’re really going to give some teams some problems.”