While most soccer fans spent the first half of the summer rooting for their favorite country in the FIFA World Cup, two names from the Wisconsin women’s soccer roster experienced first-hand World Cup action, representing their home countries for the Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
Junior midfielder Kinley McNicoll suited up for the Canadian national team, which hosted the tournament this August, while fellow Wisconsin midfielder Rose Lavelle was garmented in red, white and blue for the United States. Despite their teams playing in different groups, the two Badgers had parallel beginnings at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium; both the Canadian and American squads fell to the competition in the first match, Ghana and Germany, respectively, leaving each bench with little margin for error.
“I think losing to Germany and knowing that Brazil was do or die was a huge obstacle that we were able to overcome,” Lavelle said of her team’s tough start.
McNicoll’s reflections on her team’s attitude after losing the first match mirrored those of Lavelle’s.
“Going into the second game against Finland, we knew it was a must-win,” she said.
The Ontario native sported the “C” on her jersey this summer as a team captain, something that comes as no surprise when considering this wasn’t her first time competing at the international level. Four years ago, McNicoll led the Under-17 Canada team to a World Cup championship over Mexico by scoring the only goal of the match.
This time around, the Badger proved her ability on the field had only strengthened, as she was a constant presence, applying pressure and advancing the ball in several crucial plays.
Lavelle, meanwhile, said she felt participating in the tournament this summer had matured her as a player as well, bringing out leadership skills of her own.
“I think on my U-20 team I’ve played a pretty big role leadership-wise,” Lavelle said. “Being a freshman last year, I don’t think I really put that upon myself to be a leader, so hopefully I can bring that back.”
And after the way Lavelle looked on the field this summer, most problably would not argue with her. The sophomore played a key role throughout the duration of the tournament for the United States, especially in the third game against China, when she tallied her first international point, tucking the ball in behind the goalkeeper off a pass from teammate Lindsey Horan.
“I’ve been with the team for almost two years and I haven’t been able to score, so to get that out of the way was a huge weight off my shoulders,” Lavelle said.
Now that the regular season is starting up, what kind of effect will Lavelle’s and McNicoll’s experiences have on the 2014 Wisconsin women’s soccer season?
If the first few games are any indicator, the duo’s fast pace and high intensity could carry over into the fall. The pair have already left their mark early on, as each tallied a point in the opening weekend to give Wisconsin two wins.
“The international game is so much faster than college. It’s exhausting playing games, physically and mentally,” McNicoll said.
Head coach Paula Wilkins seems to be feeling the same way, hinting in her press conference Aug. 25 that she suspects playing at a higher level of competition over the summer could bring some momentum to the rest of the bench.
“The game is a little bit slower for them,” Wilkins said. “They bring some composure back and I think that helps the other players.”
Looking back at everything the pair of midfielders were a part of, earned and went up against this summer – the captaincy for McNicoll, the goal for Lavelle – both Badgers said their favorite memories were the ones where their teams succeeded together. This is one of the biggest signs that the experience in the tournament could have a significant impact on the Wisconsin squad that was picked to finish second in the Big Ten this season.
McNicoll was quick to respond that the win against Finland was her favorite tournament memory.
Canada triumphed over the Finnish national team in the second game of the tournament, only a few days after the discouraging initial defeat to Ghana.
“At halftime we were down 2-0, and I don’t think for a moment anybody thought we were done,” McNicoll said. “At halftime, the energy in our locker room was just so positive and was great vibes. That was definitely my favorite moment. You live for those moments.”