Over two months ago, as part of the Wisconsin Tournament, Northwestern’s women’s soccer team took down then-No. 3 UCLA and tied Cincinnati in the same weekend that the Badgers lost to the same two teams on the same field.

So when the Wildcats returned to Madison Monday night only to be handed a 3-0 loss, head coach Paula Wilkins likened the result to a true testament of the offense’s evolution.

“We talked about it in the pregame, saying where we started against UCLA at the beginning of the year and how far we’ve come along here and Northwestern… tied Cincinnati and beaten UCLA,” Wilkins said. “We talked about how important the evolution was for us and that it was time to show people what we had done, and I think this team always gets stronger throughout the season.

“From where we’ve started to where we’ve gotten is a bit of a jump.”

With the regular season now finished, Wisconsin (9-4-4, 7-1-2) has won just over half of its matches by a score of 1-0. Monday night’s game marked just the second time the team registered three goals in a game.

But with all of those goals coming in the first half before an increase in substitutions in the second slowed UW’s attack, the Badgers are relishing in newfound confidence in the offensive side.

“It was amazing. I don’t think we expected to play like that,” freshman midfielder Kodee Williams said, who scored a goal herself. “We kept the ball well, we made good penetrating passes, we got around the corner, we did everything right.”

As soon as the game began Wisconsin established itself as the authority on the pitch. The Badgers played wide the entire game, avoiding congestion and maintaining room to advance the ball. The Wisconsin midfield demonstrated smart and effective passing while ball handlers were able to weave through the Northwestern defense quickly.

Two of the goals were scored in prototypical fashion for Wisconsin this year, with defenders Lindsey Johnson and Catie Sessions getting around the outside backs to put in the cross for Nosbusch to get a hit – who scored twice in less than 10 minutes for a career best nine goals on the year.

“I’m really happy with the opportunities,’ Wilkins said. “They did some of the things that we asked of them in terms of getting wide and getting the ball across. We finished some good chances, I liked the energy coming back.”

“Still looking for a some consistency after we score those goals, but it’s a new territory for the team. I think it’s a step in evolution.”

Postseason/conference title hopes

Wisconsin now sits in first place of the Big Ten but must wait and see if it can hold on to its first conference title since 1996, just the second year in which the Big Ten existed in NCAA women’s soccer. Additionally, the Badgers must wait until Monday afternoon for the NCAA tournament bracket to be announced.

With 23 points, the Badgers need both Ohio State and Penn State to either lose or tie their last games against Michigan State and Michigan, which are not held until the weekend. Both OSU and PSU are at home.

Entering Friday’s game, Wisconsin was ranked No. 22 in the RPI rankings, which dictate the selection of the 32-team bracket. With the win, Wisconsin should be safe for its second consecutive qualification in Wilkins’ four years in Madison.

While Wilkins remains confident with her team’s chances, she understands that nothing is for certain at this point.

“I always say with the NCAAs, I’m never really sure until they actually have the bid show so I’ll wait for that, but I’m pretty confident with the record that we have.”

“I’d rather be the one being chased right now than having the pressure to actually get a result. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I’m happy the team put themselves into the position that they did.”