For the Wisconsin women’s soccer team the end of August cannot come soon enough. The date Aug. 31 is circled in the minds of every member of the team, and you better believe they are looking forward to a Rocky Mountain high.
The city of Denver is the scene of the team’s season opener against the University of Colorado. The Badgers will then stay in the mountains and travel to Colorado Springs to take on Colorado College Sept. 2. The Colorado matchups mean UW will have to battle the high altitude and thin air, but that doesn’t bother head coach Dean Duerst too much.
“We’re leaving a day early to get adjusted,” Duerst said. “We’re going to get two trainings in and that will help the players. There’s not a lot extra you can do.”
Placing second in the Big Ten just one year ago with a record of 7-4-1 in the conference, 16-7-1 overall, the Badgers are eyeing a first-place finish. In his search for the conference title Duerst has taken actions to upgrade his coaching staff. UW’s head coach was able to lure graduate assistant Kristie Braunston from Texas Christian University and offer her a position as one of his assistant coaches.
“I’m extremely excited to start the new season with a new person on our staff,” Duerst said about Braunston. “She’s really going to add to the strength of our coaching staff. She’s been a leader on the teams that she’s played on. She’s got a great mind for the game.”
Her presence on the staff will be tested when the Badgers clash with national powerhouse Notre Dame in Southbend on Sept. 9. The following week marks the arrival of Wisconsin’s home season opener and the Rocky Rococo Wisconsin Invitational. Scheduled to compete with UW are Maine and Evansville University. The invite will consist of a round robin tournament, with UW playing Maine on Thursday, Sept. 14; Evansville on Friday; and the two visiting teams squaring off on Saturday.
The Badgers will then kick off the Big Ten schedule with their September 21 season opener against Purdue. The highlight of Wisconsin’s conference season will be October 19 against Penn State, last year’s undefeated regular-season Big Ten champions. With the bullseye on Penn State’s back, UW forwards Kelly Kundert, Jenny Kundert and Lauren Schmidt will need to bring their A-games. With a combined six game-winning goals and 35 points last year, the trio will have to make an even bigger impact this season after the departure of forward Allison Wagner. Wagner had five game winners and 35 points by herself, and was drafted into the Women’s United Soccer Association. However, Duerst isn’t too concerned over the departure of Wagner.
“We have a much deeper team personnel-wise, and it’s made our preseason be a better preseason,” Duerst said. “If freshman come in and play right away, your leaders have to carry them, and that’s what we’re expecting.”
Wisconsin possesses a young team, but the 19 underclassmen intend to demonstrate their talents with standout freshman midfielders Kristen Betz and Amy Vermeulen.
“Those two in particular are elite-level athletes,” Duerst said of Betz and Vermeulen.
Duerst’s main priority for the season is team unity, as well as a Big Ten championship.
“Our biggest goal is chemistry,” Duerst said. “You can’t put a price tag on team chemistry. We want a Big Ten championship, and this is a group that has been close to achieving that. We are ready to play a game against somebody else than each other. That’s where we are at.”
After losing one of the school’s most notorious scorers, UW has more than enough firepower and leadership in its arsenal to exceed last year’s achievements.