Riding a four-game unbeaten streak to start the 2013 season, the Wisconsin women’s soccer team had big expectations when it took to the field for its first regular home match Friday evening at the McClimon Complex. But after holding a brief 3-2 lead at the start of the second half, defensive breakdowns spelled doom for the Badgers as they fell 4-3 before 726 fans at the fifth annual PAC the MAC.
Following the game, Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins was fairly blunt when discussing where the Badgers (3-1-1) went wrong in their first loss of the season.
“I honestly think our defending in the back and especially on transition – I don’t think we did very well,” Wilkins said. “But what we talked about is also a lot of that transition stuff comes from team defending, getting initial pressure on the ball, not letting people turn in the midfield, so a group effort, a team effort of defending.
“And that’s something we talked about coming away from this game – we have to make a conscious effort to as a group decide to do that because we haven’t gotten a shutout yet and we would pride ourselves on that. We have the offensive power to do that. Now we need to close up the defending stuff.”
Not surprisingly, the weaknesses in the Wisconsin back line that were problematic throughout most of the game also proved costly on what ended up being the game-winning goal in the 66th minute for Vanderbilt (2-2-1).
“I think that our back line was just too staggered, not cohesive and it [the ball] just went over me and the girl just took off,” Wisconsin center back Alexandra Heller said of the sequence that led to the game-winner by the Commodores Cheyna Williams, her second of the match.
After receiving a long through pass from middle third, Williams separated from the Badger defense and beat Wisconsin goalkeeper Meghan Ledin to the upper 90. Ledin had only entered the game a minute and 17 seconds earlier – the freshman’s first game action of the season – when starting goalkeeper Genevieve Richard was injured following a corner kick.
Up until that point, Wisconsin was controlling much of the momentum during the early parts of the second half, and had fought back to tie the game at two goals apiece before the game went to halftime on a nifty goal by sophomore Kinley McNicoll.
“I knocked the ball out wide and it got chipped over to me and then I took a player on. I was kind of the far side of the 18 and then the goalie was kind of not really paying attention so I just pinged it and it ended up just beating her to her left,” McNicoll said of her unassisted goal, which came in the 42 minute of the second half.
Coming out strong in the second half, Wisconsin notched the go-ahead goal after Rose Lavelle’s initial shot deflected in the six yard box to Badger Marisa Kresge, who put the rebound over Commodore goalkeeper Olivia Liebman’s head from the 18.
But the Wisconsin lead and the momentum didn’t last for long, as the Commodores netted the equalizer 14 minutes later in the 64th minute, just two minutes prior to the game-winner. This time the Commodores’ Simone Charley capitalizing on a Wisconsin turnover, and on another of the several breakaways Vanderbilt had during the game, sped by the Wisconsin defense and finessed the ball past Richard to the far right post.
Despite finding itself down over the final 34 minutes, Wilkins still thought Wisconsin had a fair amount of chances to knot the score again, but unlike before the Badgers couldn’t take advantage of the plethora of opportunities.
“I think we rushed some stuff. Where we had some calmness before in it, I thought because being a goal down we got a little rushed and took some shots that maybe weren’t necessarily warranted,” Wilkins said of the Badgers shots in the late going, totaling 28 over the course of the game to Vanderbilt’s 10. “We could have taken another little pass to get a seam in there – just being dynamic. I think you have to be special in the box and I don’t know if people were willing to put the effort in.”
Wisconsin provided more than enough offense that should have won the game, according to Wilkins, but Vanderbilt’s speed on the attack was too much to handle, ultimately overwhelming the Badgers in their first loss of the season.
“I think moving forward, we’re keeping our heads up high and think just that was a lesson that we learned today. We’re not going to let teams come into our house and put us away, so from here on out it’s only going to go forward,” McNicoll said.