It’s no secret that conference play in the Big Ten for women’s soccer is a daunting 10-game gauntlet full of hurdles and roadblocks. Although no game is easy, it’s clear that this weekend was going to be one of the toughest of the conference portion of the season for Wisconsin with games against No. 7/8-ranked Penn State and Ohio State.
After suffering a tough 2-1 loss Friday night to the Nittany Lions, the Badgers responded with a crucial 1-0 overtime victory over Ohio State, giving Wisconsin a weekend split.
Following the thrilling win Sunday, Wisconsin center back Kylie Schwarz commented on the importance of coming back strong Sunday after falling Friday to Big Ten powerhouse, Penn State.
“It was probably one of our hardest weekends we’ve had — back-to-back having Penn State and then Ohio State. But I think it was huge to get a win on our home field and just battle all the way through overtime and everything,” Schwarz said.
“One of the biggest things about the Big Ten is that you have two games, on a Friday and Sunday, and they can be quite emotional and physical,” Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins said of the format of Big Ten play, which has teams typically playing two weekend games. “We wanted to make sure we put that game in the past and we had to focus on Ohio State because that was going to be the next important opponent.”
Despite the loss Friday night, a big part of the entire weekend was Wisconsin goalkeeper Genevieve Richard. Richard allowed two goals a little less than five minutes apart in the first half of Friday’s game, but followed that up by keeping both Penn State and Ohio State scoreless for 152 minutes.
That scoreless streak was especially crucial in the second game, in which neither team could find the back of the net until the golden goal by the Badgers in the first overtime. Richard tallied 12 saves on the weekend, including six in the game against Ohio State, and aided the Badger defense in the shutdown of the Ohio State attack.
“Gen in the goal was just amazing. She had huge saves today. But I think that we’ve really been working hard in practice with connecting our midfield and our backline and getting our shape right and I think that really helped and it really showed in the last couple games,” Schwarz said.
Although Ohio State’s leading scorer Nichelle Prince had five shots, four of which were on goal, Richard came up big in net, stopping each one, and in several cases had to make a sprawling effort to cover up rebound in the box.
Wisconsin’s backline cleared away the rest of the opportunities, and it only seemed like a matter of time before the Badgers’ offense would strike.
It took a while for the offense to finally strike against OSU, but in the 96th minute, substitute Nikki Greenhalgh came up big with her second goal of the season.
A shot came in from the left side of the 18 yard box, and Greenhalgh found herself in the right place at the right time.
“I definitely saw Alev running through and I was just like, ‘In case it doesn’t go in, I want to be on the end of it.’ So it just ended up working out that way,” Greenhalgh said. “There was a defender right behind me and I definitely touched it and it just went in. I can’t say I kicked it or anything. It just kind of went off my body.”
The game-winner gave the Badgers a lot to smile about, a much different feeling than after the tough-luck loss Friday night.
Both games this weekend saw Wisconsin have very similar first halves, in which the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes tallied a lot of offensive chances. But in Friday’s game, Penn State took advantage of the wealth of opportunities and star player Maya Hayes led the way.
Hayes assisted on the first goal in the 31st minute and then scored what proved to be the eventual game-winner in the 36th minute.
Wisconsin tried to mount a comeback in the second half, but the two goal deficit proved too much.
According to Wilkins, the ability of her team to adapt in the second half Sunday was the big improvement after Friday’s loss.
“I thought the ability to change during the game, making the change that we made at halftime; they were able to do that,” Wilkins said. “And they came out and I think it was a tale of two halves. So I think that was an important step for this young team.”
With the shutout Sunday, the Badgers have now posted clean sheets in four out of the last six games, after not having one in the first six games of the season. And for the first time this season, Wisconsin won a game in overtime.
“I think anytime that you can win an overtime game, it gives them a little bit more confidence with what they’re trying to do. And again, getting a shut out is important for this group,” Wilkins said.