After finishing 8th in the Big Ten with a 4-6 conference record last season (10-9-2 overall), the UW women’s soccer team will look to take the conference by surprise in the 2004 season with a roster that includes significant returning talent.

“I think we’re going to be overlooked a little bit, but that’s okay,” head coach Dean Duerst said. “Early in the season, they’re already making some strides. They’ve got great team unity; they’re organization is good. They’re asking questions; they’re absorbing like sponges. That is a good indication that they’re hungry to prove some things to some people.”

Last season’s points leader, Katy Lindenmuth, returns to lead an offense that will look to improve its production after finishing 6th in the Big Ten in scoring last season (1.52 goals per game).

“I think we’ll be a little bit more exciting,” Duerst said. “I have a feeling we’re going to be able to move the ball around a lot better.”

Joining Lindenmuth at forward is junior Amy Vermeulen, who took a medical redshirt last season after an impressive 2002 campaign in which she ranked second on the team in goals (7), assists (8) and points (22). Though Vermeulen was unable to participate last season, Duerst is confident that she will reemerge as an impact player in 2004.

“We’re really going to welcome Amy Vermuelen back in and rely on her up front.” Duerst said.

Lindenmuth and Vermuelen headline a deep UW scoring attack that includes senior captain Marla Froelich, senior Sarah Capel, junior Marisa Brown, freshman Taylor Walsh, and sophomore Kara Kabellis. The talented group will rely on a variety of scorers to replace the departed Jenny Kundert, who led the Badgers in goals in each of the past two seasons.

“It can’t just be the one person; it’s got to be a blend of all of those,” Duerst said. “Teams won’t be able to just say, ‘We’ve got to stop a Kundert and we’ll stop Wisconsin.'”

After an impressive freshman season in which she matched Lindenmuth for second on the team in goals (6) and was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team, Kabellis seems poised for a breakout year in 2004.

“She is just somebody that’s dangerous,” Duerst said. “She’s dangerous in flow play, she’s dangerous in front of the goal. She’s just difficult to cover because of her height and because of her smoothness. Teams are going to have some problems with her, matching up against her.”

On the defensive side, senior Molly Meuer returns to anchor a unit that includes sophomore Natalie Horner and junior Jessica Ring.

“We don’t have a ton of speed, but we’re still a very strong defensive team,” Meuer said. “Natalie Horner never gets beat; she always ends up with the ball. Ring is very good at pushing people one way and winning the ball as well … We’re very rock solid, as we like to call it. We’re very compact and united and we all have the same idea of what we want.”

After starting the season as a defender, Meuer moved to midfield late in the 2003 campaign. This season, the versatile senior will see action at both positions and will be asked to control the center of the field defensively.

“She’s used to both positions,” Duerst said. “She’s just used to anchoring the center in front of our defense. That’s what every team needs, somebody to hold down that middle part of the field. If you break there, you have problems. That’s Molly’s way of helping us on the field.”

Just as she did in her final season at the high-school level, Meuer will welcome the opportunity to play alongside her sister, Katy Meuer, who joins the Badgers as one of six incoming freshman.

“I’m really excited,” Molly said. “We played in high school together, but it was only one year and it ended up being my best year for high school. It’ll be fun. Training for college ball is completely different than training for high school, so it’s kind of fun to train with her and see her every day and talk to her, see her ups and downs. Freshman year is hard, so I’m glad that I can be here with her and share this experience.”

Another member of the Badgers’ talented freshman class is goalkeeper Lynn Murray, who will challenge sophomore Stefani Szczechowski for the starting spot in goal. The Gatorade state player of the year in Georgia her senior season, Murray has impressed the coaches early and could see playing time.

“We’ll probably be using both Stefani Szczechowski and Lynn Murray, a new freshman from Atlanta,” Duerst said. “That is where there is depth now and incredible competition. I think you’re going to see both of those kids having some time out with the Badgers this fall.”

Szczechowski is no stranger to position battles after winning the starting job as a freshman last season. Boasting an impressive 1.21 goals against average in 2003, Szczechowski remains the front-runner in goal heading into the 2004 campaign.

With a deep roster loaded with talent, the Badgers’ coaching staff will look to take advantage of a rule change that allows players to reenter the game after they have been substituted for.

“That should help us in utilizing our personnel.” Duerst said.

In addition to a wealth of returning talent, the Badgers added a new assistant coach in the offseason. Carrie Barker, a member of the UW soccer team that took home the Big Ten title in 1994, has coached at Michigan for the past seven seasons.

“Carrie’s been great,” Lindenmuth said. “She’s been nothing but positive and encouraging and she brings so much positive energy to training. I think that so far everyone has responded to her really well and we’re really excited about having her around.”