In its first loss of the season, the Wisconsin women’s soccer team struggled to defend the speedy attack of Vanderbilt, giving up four goals to fall 4-3 in the 2013 season home opener.
The Badgers (3-1-1) entered the game undefeated, appearing strong, dynamic and poised despite having six underclassman in the starting lineup. However, a trio of attackers for the Commodores (2-2-1) proved too much for the UW backline as Vanderbilt continued to capitalize on defensive errors and outrun the Badgers’ defense.
“The biggest thing was their speed. All three [players] of their top line were extremely fast and we just had a hard time adjusting,” defenseman Alexandra Heller said.
Leading the blitz up top for Vanderbilt was sophomore forward Cheyna Williams. Williams tested the young UW defensive unit of redshirt junior Heller, junior Carly Vogel and freshmen Kylie Schwarz and Morgan Taylor, preoccupying the Badgers attention to giving space and time to her teammates.
And when Williams managed to break away from the a Wisconsin defenseman, she capitalized, scoring two goals off four shots-on-goal throughout the game.
Wisconsin found a way to shut down the Vanderbilt offensive threats, going more than 43 minutes in the middle of the match without giving up a goal. UW even took the lead five minutes into the second half as sophomore Marisa Kresge tapped in a rebounded shot from freshman Rose Lavelle.
But the defensive cohesion and maintaining possession began to break down, giving away the Wisconsin lead at the 64-minute mark, with the final blow coming less than three minutes later at the hands of Williams.
“I thought Rose [Lavelle] took over the game a little bit and was able to connect some passes and get the ball wide so space opened up a lot,” Wilkins said of her team through the middle portion of the game. “I thought we had to stick to that and I thought we started to panic a little bit and not play as well and gave some balls away that resulted in transitions that caused their goals.”
It was a simple game of pass and run that brought the Vanderbilt offensive success, perfectly aligning two through balls in the second half to teammates surging past the backtracking Wisconsin defense.
Yet, Wisconsin was not without its own set of opportunities throughout the game. The Badgers notched three goals of their own and vastly outshot Vanderbilt 28-10 in the game.
However, it was the Commodores’ quality of opportunities and ability to capitalize that set the two teams apart. While Wisconsin put just eight of its 28 shots on-net, Vanderbilt tested Wisconsin’s goalkeeper nearly every time as its forwards aimed at for back on the net, with seven of its 10 shots on-net.
“I think we had lots of opportunities, I mean we scored three great goals,” said sophomore midfielder Kinely McNicoll, who finished the game with a goal and assist of her own. “It came down to a couple of times we couldn’t finish and we could have.”
For head coach Paula Wilkins, those three goals should have been enough to secure a victory, but it is more than a mismatched running game that handed her team its first loss. Turnovers and weak transitions by the team as a whole led to those scoring situations where the defensive core was out matched.
“A lot of the chemistry stuff comes from team defending … so a group effort, a team effort is something we talked about coming away from this game,” Wilkins said. “We have to make a conscious effort to decide to it.”
With the final three non-conference matches up next before UW begins a tough Big Ten season schedule, Wilkins sees getting her team’s defensive play up to the level the offense is finding success offensive to be crucial for Wisconsin moving forward, noting the team has not earned a shutout yet this season.
“We have the offensive power to do it, now we need to close up the defending,” Wilkins said.
Looking ahead, the players will also use the unique experience against this multifaceted attack as preparation for the conference play to come.
“They are probably one of the best attacking teams we have played so far so going ahead we know we have played the top forward,” Heller said.