For the first time in 16 years, the Wisconsin women’s soccer team will compete in the Sweet 16 this weekend as the Badgers travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to take on No. 2 seed Boston College in Friday’s contest at Newton Field.
After missing the NCAA Tournament each of the last three seasons, the Badgers have been used to beginning offseason conditioning at this point in the season. This year, however, they continue to practice for game action.
“Practice has been intense,” senior defenseman Whitney Owusu said. “We know that Boston College is going to be a really tough opponent, so we’ve tried to raise the level of competiveness just to kind of match that.”
Though her women’s soccer team may not be familiar with playing this late into November, UW head coach Paula Wilkins is no stranger to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, the last time Wilkins coached this late in the season she led Penn State to the quarterfinals for the fifth time in her career. Interestingly enough, to get there, Wilkins’ Nittany Lions defeated Boston College 1-0 in the Sweet 16.
Despite being ranked No. 9 at the time, Wilkins felt fortunate to beat the unranked Eagles.
“I thought we were lucky to come away with a result,” Wilkins said. “I thought they were really well-organized and they had great chances near the goal. They had great energy and great athletes. I just remember feeling lucky that we got away on our home field.”
This time, the roles have been reversed, as Wilkins’ squad is unranked and BC head coach Allison Kulik’s Eagles are ranked No. 7 in the nation.
BC will be one of the toughest teams yet for the Badgers, as the Eagles have averaged 2.41 goals per game this season to just 0.45 for their opponents.
A pair of sisters has led the Eagles offensively this season, scoring nearly half the team’s goals between them. Victoria and Gina DiMartino have tallied 14 goals with five assists and eight goals with six assists, respectively.
Victoria, a freshman, has added six game-winning goals and leads the team with 33 points while her older sister Gina, a senior, has had two while scoring 22 points, good for second on the team.
“They have a great attacking dynamic,” Wilkins said. “They’ve had great experience being in the ACC and dealing with the likes of UNC and Florida State. But the biggest thing is they have a great attacking group, similar to Stanford. It’s really going to be a great challenge to see where we’ve come throughout the season to play a team like BC.”
After the way the defense played last weekend, it’s unlikely Wisconsin will have a repeat of its performance from the last time the Badgers faced such a highly-ranked team, when they lost 6-0 at Stanford.
UW goalkeeper Michele Dalton was honored this week for her performance against Arizona State and Central Florida in the first and second rounds. Dalton allowed just one goal and secured two saves on the Sun Devils’ five shots during last Friday’s shootout and she was even better Sunday, shutting out the UCF Knights.
Dalton will have her hands full Friday with the DiMartino sisters in the attacking third.
“They have strikers that are pretty good,” Dalton said. “But it’s not so much that we’re going to focus on their strengths. We’re going to focus more on our strengths, and if we can perform to our strengths this weekend, I think we can be successful.”
If Wisconsin does come away with a win Friday over Boston College, they will reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1993.
And if they reach the quarterfinals, they will likely earn a return trip to California over Thanksgiving to face top-ranked, No. 1-seeded and undefeated Stanford, which hosts Santa Clara in another Friday matchup.
The Badgers insist, though, they’re just trying to advance at this point.
“It’s awesome to be one of the last teams playing, and I want to extend the season as long as possible,” Owusu said. “I’m not ready for this to be over.”