The Wisconsin women’s soccer team will travel to Iowa City Saturday to face Iowa in the final game of the regular season.
The Badgers (12-5-1, 5-4-1 Big Ten) won both games last weekend and brought their current winning streak to five, moving up from sixth to a three-way tie for fourth with Minnesota and Illinois. This stands in stark contrast to the Hawkeyes (11-5-3, 2-5-3), who are on a four-game losing streak and are winless in their last seven. Iowa currently sits at ninth in the conference standings.
One key component to Wisconsin’s recent string of success is the increase in offensive output, particularly from forward Cara Walls.
“We’re going to try and put them under pressure,” Walls said of Iowa’s defense. “Get around the corner and get corners and crosses in and just attack them.”
Walls will aim to continue her recent success Saturday by maintaining aggressive play and working the outside of the defense.
“[The key has been] trying to be aggressive and trying to get around the corner,” Walls said.
Iowa has allowed nine goals in its last four games, and UW will be looking to add to that Saturday by sticking to the details and doing what it has done the last few games.
“It’s going to be the movement off the ball, and being dangerous in the final third. I thought we’ve been a lot better there,” head coach Paula Wilkins said. “I think Cara, Paige [Adams], Lindsey Holmes and Kodee [Williams] have created different things and different opportunities and taken people on, and I think that’s really been the difference in the past couple games.”
Wisconsin’s defense has also showed serious improvement over the win streak, allowing an average of one goal per game over the last five. On the other hand, the Iowa offense has sputtered as of late, scoring only three goals in its seven-game winless streak.
Despite this downturn in the Hawkeye attack, Cloe Lacasse must still be considered dangerous. She leads the team in goals (12), assists (6) and points (30) and is certainly liable to score Saturday.
“I think we’ve got to be really on high alert when she gets the ball, especially on transition, to eliminate her from touching the ball so much,” Wilkins said. “Obviously with a good player, we’ve got to have good cover around her at all times and just be aware.”
Defending Lacasse will surely be a top priority for the Badgers, but neutralizing one player isn’t always enough. Solid defense as a unit will be vital to ensure victory, and senior defender Lindsey Johnson said she will try to continue what they have been doing recently.
“[We need to] focus on the details, what we’ve been doing in past games,” Johnson said. “There have been a few times in games where we have let down a little bit, but we have to eliminate that and just have one solid performance.”
Behind the defense, it has been a goalkeeper tag team as of late, with Wilkins choosing either Lauren Gunderson or Genevieve Richard for the starting position. She said she has based the decision on performance in practice, and it appears to be the same approach for this weekend’s game.
“It has not [been decided], actually,” Wilkins said. “Practice is going to help determine that this week.”
Both Gunderson and Richard have done well in goal this season. When it comes to save percentage, Richard has the edge, saving 81.8 percent of shots on goal, compared to Gunderson’s 75.4 percent. Regardless of who ends up starting in goal, one thing is clear: UW is hungry for a win Saturday.
“[A win] is really important. It’s important for us so hopefully we get a bid into the NCAA [Tournament] and we don’t put as much pressure on ourselves when it comes to the Big Ten Tournament,” Walls said. “We realize that it’s a big game for us.”
Wilkins echoed the same sentiment, adding in praise for the leadership the seniors have provided on this young Badger squad.
“I think there’s a belief with [the players] and they want to keep that belief going,” Wilkins said. “There’s a different energy in practice, and the seniors have done a great job of continuing that and making players believe.”
In the Big Ten standings, Wisconsin is currently tied with Minnesota and Illinois, which play Friday and Saturday, respectively. An emphatic win could give the Badgers the edge they need in seeding for the tournament, as well as help build momentum heading into postseason play.
The Badgers also rank 37th in the NCAA standings, meaning they would qualify for the tournament. A win could push them higher, and special things happen in the postseason. Momentum could mean everything.