After struggling during the Big Ten regular season in 2005, the women's soccer team dominated the competition during the last month of the season, in which they won seven consecutive games and won their first Big Ten tournament title since 1994. Although some key personnel are missing from last year's team, the lady Badgers are poised to make a run deep into the postseason in the upcoming fall.
The key thing for Wisconsin in the 2006 season is replacing the four seniors that were instrumental to their success last season. Forwards Marisa Brown, Katy Lindenmuth and Amy Vermeulen comprised 66 of Wisconsin's 137 points last season. Additionally, Wisconsin lost first team Academic All-American Jessica Ring, who anchored a Badger defense that gave up only 31 goals last season.
With most of the scoring gone from last season, Wisconsin is looking toward senior captain Kara Kabellis. Named to the All-Big Ten first team, Kabellis hopes to surpass the numbers she put up last season, scoring seven goals and six assists in Wisconsin's 24 games. Looking to help take some of the scoring load off Kabellis will be sophomores Taylor Walsh and Elise Weber. Both Walsh and Weber highlighted an outstanding freshmen recruiting class for the Badgers, with both of them playing in every game for the Badgers last season and combining for eight goals.
Wisconsin head coach Dean Duerst maintains that the Badgers will be just as potent on offense this season, with the addition of nine red-shirt freshmen competing for playing time.
"We're going to have no problem scoring goals this year," Duerst said. "We have Weber, Walsh, Kabellis and players like Lindsay Walker and Shannon Terry, who didn't play a lot of minutes last year but still are dangerous players. We have the personnel to score goals."
In addition to the red-shirt freshman competing for playing time, Wisconsin ushers in a balanced 2006 recruiting class that includes three midfielders, one forward and one goaltender. Out of the five recruits, Ashley Hedges shows the most potential of seeing a lot of time on the field. Hailing from Carmel, Calif., Hedges led Carmel High School to three state championships, in addition to being named twice to the all-state and all-district teams in California. With all this firepower coming in next season, there figures to be a real battle for playing time at the start of the season.
"Everybody asks if you see anybody in your recruiting class being able to come right in and play and I think every year is that you just don't know," Duerst said. "I think the recruits are really going to help challenge a lot of players … The last [few] recruiting classes have played very good together, where you had multiple players at different positions and that's what we have with this latest class."
The most interesting battle to watch going into the season will be which goalie Wisconsin decides to use. Junior Lynn Murray saw the majority of action in 2005, playing in 22 games for the Badgers, winning 13, and allowing only 1.11 goals per game. Murray also registered five shutouts and was named the Big Ten's defensive player of the week in October.
On the other hand, senior captain Stefani Szczechowski has proven that she is a capable goalie over her three seasons at Wisconsin. After getting the majority of playing time in her first season, Szczechowski time in goal has varied. She saw action in only seven games last season, but showed a strong defensive presence in the net, allowing only seven goals while notching 10 saves during her time in the net. Although it is feasible to have the two goalies play on a rotational basis, the Wisconsin coaching staff looks to try and avoid that a pick a number one goalie.
"As Lynn and Steph are here together, they have always been battling and competing for time and it's been that way since Lynn has come on board," Duerst said. "Steph knows what is in front of her. They both have experience and they both will continue to have experience with our backs. You want to keep things competitive but ultimately, coaches and the team want to stick with a number one goalie who has risen to be that number one."
Through three games this spring so far, Wisconsin appears equally as powerful offensively and defensively as they did last season. In their recent match against UWM, Wisconsin got goals from Kabellis and assistant captain Allison Preiss, while the youthful defense didn't allow a score in the Badgers' victory.
That said, Duerst looks to use this time to try different things on both sides of the ball to give Wisconsin that extra kick it was sometimes missing in games last season.
"In essence, spring season is the molding for your year and the beginnings of that mold and what we need in order to play," Duerst said. "I think what we are really looking at, and the players understand that, is an extension of last year's play and try to get everything more connected. As coaches, we really have to teach more in the spring because we have more time and that has been a real value so far."