Instead, it’s their heritage that sets Williams, McNicoll and Richard apart. But unless it’s Richard (pronounced REE-shard) talking, that different heritage is hardly obvious.
The trio hails from different parts of Canada — McNicoll grew up in Oakville, Ontario, Williams in Toronto, and Richard in Saint-Bruno, Quebec — giving them something in common with Badger assistant coach Tim Rosenfeld, a Thunder Bay, Ontario, native.
Rosenfeld experienced Canadian collegiate athletics at the University of Toronto, but as a coach in his 18th year at an American college under NCAA jurisdiction, he explained there’s a stark difference between college sports in the two countries.
“You can’t compare it,” Rosenfeld said, noting he was lucky to get a new uniform every year while in college. “To see what these [players] get — and I think that’s maybe the difference with the Canadians as well, is they can appreciate the things that they get when they get to [the NCAA] level and say, ‘Had I gone to the University of Waterloo, this would not be happening to me right now.’ There’s certain appreciation that they have for the experience.”
But it’s not just college sports that differ between Canada and the United States, it extends down into high school sports as well.
“We definitely don’t take our high school sports as seriously. We have provincial championships, but it’s nothing like state championships. Our high school teams are just … not that great. I didn’t even play soccer in high school just because the level wasn’t there for me,” said Williams, who instead played on club teams and youth national teams. “It’s a lot different. They take their sports very seriously in America.”
According to Rosenfeld, soccer is just as popular in Canada as it is in the United States, and although there may be fewer players in Canada, there is still plenty of talent available for American universities to recruit. Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins and Rosenfeld have done just that, with a little help from Rosenfeld’s special connection.
Rosenfeld’s uncle, Bryan Rosenfeld, has been coach of the Canadian National women’s U-17 team for the last three cycles, giving his nephew valuable insight into some of the best up-and-coming talent in all of Canada.
“So far it’s really worked out well for us. It’s not something that’s backfired. It’s been a good angle and they’ve been successful in the classroom, on the field and we’ve just kept on going with it,” Rosenfeld said of recruiting Canadian players with the help of his uncle.
Once Williams, McNicoll and Richard got to Wisconsin, naturally all three had to make adjustments to not only going to college, but life in a new country.
As the sophomore McNicoll remarked, making those accommodations was not difficult.
“It was not hard to adjust at all. Wisconsin is so much like home. People are so friendly. With the soccer team it’s just so much easier to fit in,” McNicoll said, emphasizing that Wisconsin has become like a second home.
In their time with the Badgers, Williams, a redshirt junior; McNicoll; and Richard, a junior, all have accomplished success in different ways, on which Rosenfeld elaborated.
“There’s a kid that’s taken the American college experience and decided, ‘I’m going to make the most of this.’ It’s unique,” Rosenfeld said of Williams. “The college experience in the States is unique. There’s no other place in the world that has created what the NCAA has created. There’s nothing, in terms of the opportunity that these kids have and the level that they’re playing at and the support that they have.
“There’s somebody that’s taken advantage of it,” he said. “She’s brought that kind of leadership not only within the student organization but on the team as well.”
“You look at Kinley and that kid has a huge future ahead of her. She is the shining star of the Canadian U-20 national team right now,” Rosenfeld said. “I’ve spoken to the coach in the last couple of weeks and he just keeps on checking on her because he thinks the world of her and that she’s going to be the next full team on his 20, so she’s got a whole good national career ahead of her for sure.”
“[Richard] has really developed into a top-notch goalkeeper and she’s got international experience,” he said. “I know she’s on the radar over there. I obviously work with her a lot and she is the consummate professional. I hate to use that word in college, but she comes out to train and works her butt off. She’s good academically. She has it figured out. She knows what she needs to get done and she gets it done.”
The three Canadian players also have something else in common: they have played a large role in Wisconsin’s success this season.
The Badgers (8-2-2 overall, 3-1-1 Big Ten) have had a potent offensive attack that is averaging almost 2.5 goals per game, headed by McNicoll who has 21 points on six goals and nine assists. Williams has also aided the offense with 10 points of her own (3 goals, 1 assist).
And then in the thick of things on defense, Richard has lost only one game, a 7-1-2 record, and has recorded 45 saves with a .789 save percentage. With her strong performance as of late, Richard earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week last week following back-to-back shutouts against Michigan and Michigan State.
In the end, the nationalities of McNicoll, Williams and Richard have little effect. It’s their soccer capabilities of this trio that could mean big things for Wisconsin.
“We always get picked on because we say things funny and we definitely, we know what we’re talking about when we talk about Smarties. We’re not talking about the chalky candies that you guys have here. We’re talking about chocolate. And of course, there’s all the little nuances that we know. There’s definitely a bond between us that the Americans will never understand,” Williams said.