After missing the beginning of the 2015 season, freshman Victoria Pickett faced an uphill battle to prove herself as a reliable starter in the Big Ten’s most talented midfield.
Pickett didn’t sign her letter of intent to play at UW until Aug. 25, and didn’t even join the team until after the second game of the season.
Between the team’s slow start to the season and the pressure to quickly learn the Badgers’s system, there was little margin for error by the time she first took the field in early September, making her first start of the season at Loyola-Chicago the fifth game of the season.
Working in Pickett’s favor, however, was the mentorship and support from senior midfielder Kinley McNicoll, both a former teammate with the Canadian national program and longtime friend. As teammates in 2014 for the U-20 World Cup and the 2015 Pan-American Games, the two shared some memorable victories, reaching the knockout stages in both tournaments.
But surprisingly enough, Pickett said McNicoll wasn’t a factor in her decision to join the Badgers. Instead, it was a completely different scenario, and one she laughs about when looking back.
“I didn’t even know she was attending here before I committed, but once I did visit, it made my decision that much easier because I’d know a fellow Canadian,” Pickett said. “It was really nice knowing I have a friend to rely on if I’m ever homesick, and I can talk about stuff back at home because I have Kinley there.”
Pickett, who played defensive back during her time with U-20 Canada, said she was thrilled to transition back into her natural position of midfielder upon her arrival to the Badgers. In addition to McNicoll, she had two other all-conference caliber midfielders to help her get reacquainted with the position in Rose Lavelle and McKenna Meuer.
As a result, Pickett wasted little time making an impact on offense, earning her first assist just 55 minutes into her University of Wisconsin career and netting her first goal two games later, a second-half equalizer against in-state rival UW-Milwaukee.
Despite her early success, Pickett hasn’t lost sight of the progression still ahead of her, or the help of her teammates.
“I’ve been getting more comfortable in the position, but I still have tons to learn,” Pickett said. “Players like Rose and Kinley and everyone else have really helped me adjust.”
Either way, the points kept coming for Pickett, and often during crucial moments of Wisconsin’s current eight-game winning streak. She was especially valuable during the team’s recent road trip to Iowa and Nebraska, when she netted three points on her way to earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Pickett’s contributions have only magnified the efforts of the Badgers entire midfield on offense, a unit that has scored 75 percent of the team’s total goals (18 of 24) as of Oct. 19.
After years of playing the facilitator role to her star forwards up top in Cara Walls and Kodee Williams, McNicoll relishes the opportunity to take more shots and show her abilities in an attacking role.
“I like how the midfield this year has a bigger emphasis in the attack, because ever since I was little, my coaches had told me that it’s not just strikers who score goals; the midfielders can too,” McNicoll said. “The midfield is the workhorse, and you have to work just as hard on defense than you do on the attack, so I do like having a bigger emphasis in the attack.”
It’s a necessity that Pickett and the rest of the midfield have taken with open arms, especially senior McNicoll.
But with Pickett in the mix, head coach Paula Wilkins believes the offense is peaking at the right time.
“I think we’ve found the right combination of players and they got played in with one another,” Wilkins said. “Pickett was a late add and I think she’s been a serious offensive threat that’s caused some problems with other teams.”