Although Wisconsin may have underperformed within the grassy realm of the McClimon Complex this season, one final test awaits the Badgers as Northwestern travels to Madison for the second-to-last Big Ten game of the season. And a daunting test it shall be.
The No. 24 Wildcats (10-4-2, 3-1 Big Ten) trail only Penn State in their hunt for a conference title, so anything other than a victory against the Badgers will likely halt their championship dreams. Wisconsin (6-7-3, 1-3) will have extra motivation as well, hoping to play well in front of its final home crowd of the season.
Both teams, however, seem to be moving in opposite directions. The Badgers have won three of their last four games with victories over UW-Green Bay, Michigan and, most recently, Missouri-Kansas City.
A pair of victories in the season’s final two games would vault the Badgers above .500, a mark they have been chasing since August.
Northwestern, on the other hand, has lost two straight games for the first time since September 2011. The Wildcats lost control of their undefeated conference season last weekend against Penn State but still trail the Nittany Lions by just half a game in the standings.
With Northwestern reeling, the Badgers may be able to pounce on a top 25 conference team like they have each of the past two seasons at McClimon. In 2010, Wisconsin won just four games all year, but its last home victory came against No. 22 Penn State. The same occurred last season, as No. 6 Indiana strolled into Madison and left with a surprising 2-0 defeat.
Northwestern will be just the second ranked team to play at McClimon this season after then-No. 13 Georgetown played Wisconsin to a 1-1 tie. Although the results may not hint as much, head coach John Trask and the Badgers have come a long way since that early September game.
The Badgers’ defense has improved greatly, allowing just four goals in their last five games. However, one uncertainty remains on the defense — the goalkeeper position.
In its last three games, Wisconsin has used three different goalies, all in different situations. Last week against Green Bay, junior Max Jentsch started and handed over a shutout to sophomore Jameson Kronser for the final minutes. Then, in the weekend loss to Michigan State, freshman Chase Rau started as the Badgers lost 2-0.
At the beginning of the season, Trask noted the goalkeeper position is not one he tends to like swapping players in and out of, but the season has taken a different course than the team had originally hoped.
Thus far, Rau has been the starter in every Big Ten match, but mixed results have given Jentsch the advantage in playing time in nonconference affairs. The Wildcats will provide the Badgers their best test in weeks, so Trask’s goalkeeper decision will likely play an integral role in the outcome of the match.
Sunday’s game kicks off at 12 p.m. at the McClimon Complex.