Any coach will tell you that one of the most important factors that go into players’ success is the progress they make in their sophomore season following a strong freshman year. The goal: to avoid the sophomore slump.
After being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team last season, sophomore midfielder Kinley McNicoll is making that progress and turning in a strong sophomore campaign for the Wisconsin women’s soccer team. The sophomore midfielder is leading not only Wisconsin, but all of the Big Ten in assists (12) and assists per game (.69). McNicoll also is UW’s leading point-getter with 24, including six goals on the season.
Head coach Paula Wilkins credits McNicoll’s success this season from the experience she gained playing last season and by playing with the Ottawa Fury of the United Soccer Leagues’ W-League last spring.
“I think her view of the game and her ability to read the game has gotten better,” Wilkins said. “Her experience this summer with the national team and with the W-League team has helped her really improve. I think she’s responsible for a third of our assists which is fantastic, so I think her vision on the ball is better.”
McNicoll, who hails from Oakville, Ontario, Canada was named to Canada’s U-20 team following a successful tour with the U-17 team in 2010 and with the U-19 team this past summer. McNicoll can’t quite describe her feeling about being named to Canada’s national team.
“It means the world to me, playing for my country,” McNicoll said. “It’s a feeling that I can’t even explain. It’s something special to play for your country.”
When McNicoll isn’t donning the red and white of her home country, she’s donning the cardinal and white of Wisconsin as she anchors a strong midfield for the Badgers. McNicoll’s performance has been crucial to UW’s 9-6-2 record this season as she can be found covering all parts of the field.
“One of her biggest attributes is her work rate,” Wilkins said. “I think if you talk about a kid who covers so much ground in the game, she really does that. She has a good soccer background, having played at the highest level to give her great experience. We’re going to rely on her for us to be successful.”
Arguably no one knows McNicoll better than fellow teammate and roommate, McKenna Meuer. Meuer, who is also a sophomore, shares the field with McNicoll, but in a defensive role. She said Kinley has a special instinct and knack for the ball that not many players in collegiate soccer have.
“One of Kinley’s best traits is that she loves to go forward,” Meuer said. “She loves to go at people and that’s something that not every player has. It’s something that sets her apart. Her first instinct is, ‘How do I get the ball forward?’ or ‘How do I get the ball to the goal?’ Having that attitude, especially in the midfield, brings a whole new aspect to the game since they’re not expecting it.”
It’s players like Meuer and coaches like Wilkins or Tim Rosenfeld, who is also from Canada, that McNicoll truly credits her success to. Having picked Wisconsin over multiple other schools, McNicoll is glad she chose Wisconsin because of the people she has surrounded herself with in Madison.
“If it wasn’t for the girls around me, helping me out, I wouldn’t be as successful,” McNicoll said. “The coaching here has made me as successful as I have been. Paula [Wilkins], Tim [Rosenfeld] and Kristen [Weiss] bringing out certain aspects of my game. And my teammates around me too. To score goals, you have to have that person assist it.”
As the season comes to a close and Wisconsin looks to get into the Big Ten tournament and possibly the NCAA tournament, players like McNicoll will be relied on to provide a burst for UW. Having lost back-to-back games for the first time all season and not scoring a goal in either match, the Badgers will need to get back to their winning ways in order to continue on into the postseason.
Although Canada is her true home, McNicoll feels right at place in Madison and couldn’t envision herself anywhere else. She may miss home from time to time, but McNicoll is happy to be here and playing for the Wisconsin women’s soccer team, which is a big reason why she’s made such an impact in just two years.
“I absolutely love Madison,” McNicoll said. “You’re always going to miss home wherever you go. But this is my home; this is where I want to be.”