Redshirt junior defender Ali Heller and the rest of her Badger teammates knew the game against the Wildcats (3-14-2 overall, 1-10-0 Big Ten) was critical in the playoff picture and had to answer the task with a sense of urgency.
“I think that everyone responded pretty well. I think this is the first time in a while that we’ve scored more than one or two goals in a game. We were really trying to get after it and set a good tone going into the Big Ten tournament,” Heller said.
With that sense of urgency, Wisconsin (10-6-2, 5-5-1) started the game out on fire, with 12 shots in the game’s first 19 minutes. It wasn’t long before the Badgers took advantage of all those chances, as sophomore midfielder Lindsey Holmes broke through for the first goal in only the 12th minute. After junior forward Cara Walls tried to control a cross in the 18-yard box, Holmes found herself with the ball, dribbled in the left side of the box and snuck a shot to the far post past Wildcat goalkeeper Jenna Hascher. That unassisted goal proved to be all the Badgers would need with the shutout pitched by the Wisconsin defense.
After the game, head coach Paula Wilkins commented on the torrid pace of the Wisconsin offense in the early going that generated 16 first half shots and nine corners.
“In the first even 10 minutes, we had a bunch of chances I wish we would have put away a little bit sooner. It makes my life a little bit better. I thought for the most part in the first half we did really well,” Wilkins said. “I thought we needed to be a little bit more consistent in the second half. And we’ll talk about that.”
The offensive output for the Badgers was a welcome change, as they had scored only six goals in their last seven games before Saturday. But Wisconsin finally rid itself of the proverbial monkey on its back and provided Wilkins with several positive signs heading into the Big Ten tournament, which starts Wednesday.
“A bunch of the opportunities that we created again, and being able to score three goals—I think the last two games, Indiana and Minnesota, we weren’t able to score. And I think scoring three goals – just even Cara getting the ball in the back of the net, seeing Lindsey Holmes score who hasn’t scored – all of that stuff is important,” Wilkins said.
“This whole week at practice we’ve been playing really well. We’ve been really focusing on scoring, since it’s been a struggle in the last couple of games, so I think we were just really motivated to score and for sure score on a corner. We’ve been working on those a lot,” Heller said.
More offense came later in the first half with Wisconsin tacking on another goal in the 33rd minute. This time it was Walls who found the back of the net. Sophomore midfielder Kinley McNicoll drove alone the left end line and crossed the ball into the middle of the box for Walls, who promptly fired a laser into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Wisconsin took that lead into the intermission, but Northwestern came out much stronger in the second half and put more pressure on the Badgers than it had in the first half. After giving up a plethora of chances in the first half, Northwestern held Wisconsin to only two shots on goal. Meanwhile, the Wildcats had three shots on goal in the second frame and saw a great deal more of opportunities after being held without a shot on goal in the first half.
Despite a flurry of chances from the Wildcats, the Badger defense and redshirt junior goalkeeper Genevieve Richard stood strong, keeping Northwestern off the board. Wisconsin, on the other hand, managed to capitalize on fewer chances, as sophomore midfielder McKenna Meuer struck again in the 80th minute, giving Wisconsin more than enough breathing room to secure the big win.
With senior day for midfielders Alev Kelter and Nicole La Petina and a berth in the Big Ten tournament on the line, Wisconsin had more than enough to play for and got back on the right track with a resounding victory in the regular season finale.
“Everyone was ready. Everyone was up for it. We were all pumped. It was senior day. We wanted to do it for Alev [Kelter] and Nicole [La Petina]. We had the right attitude. We just need to carry that on into the Big Ten tournament,” Walls said.