Coming into the weekend with an undefeated record, the No. 19 Wisconsin women’s soccer team kept the good times rolling with a pair of impressive wins in front of their home crowd at the McClimon Soccer Complex.
The home stand opened Friday with a less-than-dramatic 5-0 thumping of South Dakota State (0-2-0). Senior Forward Cara Walls made a statement early as she scored the first goal for the Badgers (4-0-0) in the 5th minute off of an impressive assist from junior midfielder Rose Lavelle, one of three setups Lavelle had on the night.
Any chance for a Jackrabbit comeback was put to rest after Junior Midfielder Kinley McNicoll buried her second goal of the night in the 47th minute to put the Badgers up 3-0. The combination of a staunch defense and effective passing game on offense put Wisconsin in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the match as they tacked on two more goals in the second half en route to the 5-0 victory.
Building off of their momentum from Friday, the Badgers again looked like a team on a mission against Northern Iowa (1-3-0) Sunday afternoon at McClimon. Paying respect to the Badger’s attack, the Panthers put forth a more conservative, defensive approach, which tried to clog passing lanes to prevent the set up of high-percentage shots despite giving Wisconsin a good portion of the possession. Unfortunately for Northern Iowa, Wisconsin had their cake and ate it too, tallying eight shots with plenty more scoring opportunities in the first half alone. Walls again got on the board early with a goal seven minutes in, thanks to perfectly-placed cross from fellow senior forward Kodee Williams. Walls received the feed and booted it into the upper half of the net for the quick lead.
Entering their fourth year together as teammates, Williams explained how she and Walls have had plenty of time to perfect their chemistry on offense.
“We are constantly watching film, talking, and obviously at practice everyday we’re just trying to improve our chemistry with really all of the front six we have up there, so it’s been really great so far,” Williams said.
While the 11-goal offensive output in 4 games has been noteworthy for the Badgers this season, the defensive efforts of the team have been just as eye-popping. With a defensive unit that has given up only one goal so far, eighth year head coach Paula Wilkins credited the improvements in communication by the defense, resulting in little to no turnovers or costly mistakes.
“I think in a game where you know the opposing team isn’t going to put you under that much offensive pressure, we have to make sure on transitions that we’re still good defensively and that we don’t have any mental lapses.”
The defense, anchored by junior Briana Stelzer and redshirt senior Alexandra Heller, looked very sharp Sunday, passing and clearing out opportunities confidently and limiting the Northern Iowa attack to just four total shots. Both goalkeepers who played for the Badgers – senior Genevieve Richard and redshirt freshman Caitlyn Clem – had the day off to an extent, as no saves were required throughout the 90 minutes.
While the fist half provided plenty of excitement, the combination of missed opportunities and impressive play in net by the Panthers’ Whitney Blunt, who had three saves, including a memorable diving stop in the 35th, kept Northern Iowa in contention after one half with a 1-0 score line. The Panther’s defense also did an effective job of recognizing plays, knowing when to draw the Badgers offside, leading to three calls by the linesman that prevented UW scoring opportunities.
But the Badgers kept their foot on the gas in the second half. The team continued to communicate well with each other, as junior midfielders McNicoll and McKenna Meuer continued to generate opportunities for the offense. The Badgers came through again in the 52nd minute after Walls dribbled around Blunt and found a window to score through on the left side to go up 2-0. While the maneuver itself was impressive, Walls was quick to point out the setup on the play.
“That goal was all McKenna Meuer because she kept the ball alive of the corner kick and I was kind of just there”, Walls said. “I knew she was going to win it, so I just wanted to get on the end of it and be in a position to score.”
As the minutes wore on, Panther’s defense appeared worn out and began drawing more and more fouls, finishing with 11 to UW’s three. The most notable one was committed in the in the box, which lead to the third and final goal off a penalty kick by McNicoll in the shutout victory.
While the Badgers have their best start to a season since 2004, the wheels are still always turning in the mind of Wilkins as they look ahead to their future matchups.
“I still think we can be a little bit more dynamic in the final third,” Wilkins said. “I think we have to get numbers and advance to the ball a little bit more; we were only attacking with two at times and that’s going to be a little more work.”
The Badgers will be on the pitch again next weekend with a pair of road matches in Seattle. UW faces off against Washington Friday night and then finishes off the trip west with a Sunday noon game against Portland.