The University of Wisconsin women’s soccer team’s season might be summed up in just one tweet from head coach Paula Wilkins. It contained just three words and one important hashtag that has powered the Badgers to an 8-3-2 record to start the season. The simple tweet: “Let’s do this #roadwarriors.”
The Badgers have been nothing but “road warriors” the entire season. In their 13 games thus far, nine of them have been on the road and yet, despite Saturday’s loss to Illinois, the Badgers have amassed six wins and two ties for a road record of 6-1-2. Even more impressive is that before Saturday’s loss, the Badgers were one of just four teams from the seven power conferences to play more than four away matches and not lose a single match. This 2013 team currently has the fourth most road wins in the history of the program.
While some may think it’s hard to play on the road, especially in the Big Ten, Wilkins thinks her players enjoy playing in front of hostile and energetic crowds on the road.
“Yeah, I actually think some of the players enjoy the environment,” Wilkins said. “Also, I think the energy of the game; they just thrive off of that.”
The eight combined wins and ties haven’t come against easy competition either. Of those eight wins or ties, all but two have come against teams in the Power Seven Conferences. UConn, Oregon, Illinois State, Loyola, Purdue and Michigan State have all felt defeat at the hands of the Badgers on their home pitches. Wisconsin also battled Oregon State to a 1-1 tie in Oregon and came away with a huge scoreless draw in Ann Arbor against then-No. 13 Michigan.
The “road warriors” have shown resiliency throughout the season, especially with 18 of the 26 players on the team being freshmen or sophomores. UW boasts the smallest senior class in the Big Ten with just two seniors, Alev Kelter and Nicole La Petina. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Kinley McNicoll, sees away games as a time for the team to bond and get to know each other that much more.
“Being away as a group on the road we bond more,” McNicoll said. “Since the preseason we’ve been away a lot from home and I think it just gives us the opportunity to build and bond off the field. I think you can see that on the field as well.”
Having even just a little experience on a team goes a long way and junior Cara Walls has taken what she’s learned during the past three years and prepared her younger teammates for what lays ahead on the road, primarily in the Big Ten.
“Especially in the Big Ten, every team is going to be a really hard game,” Walls said. “There are no gimmie games whatsoever. Knowing that, as an older player, every game you have to get yourself up and motivated for battle.”
It’s not just the 90 minutes on the field that decides who wins or loses, and Wilkins and the rest of her staff try to prepare the players for road games the best they can. The “road warriors” don’t look at away matches as a vacation but more as a business trip which is a large part of their success on the road. It also allows the team to get away from the stresses of school and just focus on soccer.
“We just make sure they consider it a professional trip, it’s not a vacation” Wilkins said. “We’re there to do a job and we spend time in our meetings to make sure they’re focused. I think that helps in being able to eliminate some of the distractions from Madison when we’re on the road.”
The road warriors will have one more chance in the regular season to prove their winning ways with a match against No. 24 Indiana on the horizon. After that, it’s on to the Big Ten tournament where the Badgers will face even more challenging road games with the possibility of the NCAA Tournament in the future as well.
The road successes for the Badgers will undoubtedly pay dividends as they reach postseason play in a few weeks. Wilkins likes how each game has given the team something new to work on and prepare them for the future.
“I think all of these games have prepared us for where we are right now,” Wilkins said. “It has been really valuable and important for us to gain from each game. I think this young group has learned things in each game that we’ve been on the road and I think that will pay off now and in the [Big Ten tournament].”
Regardless of being home or away, this team has a lot of talent that has led them to an 8-3-2 overall record. Their physicality and toughness currently has them fourth in the Big Ten standings, and Walls knows the team is ready for postseason play on the road.
“We’re a really mentally strong team. We’re mentally strong and physically strong,” Walls said. “Traveling doesn’t really tire us down. We can get ourselves up and get ourselves motivated going into a game with the right mentality.”