At this time last year, Dani Rhodes was setting records in both soccer and basketball for Waukesha West High School. Now, Rhodes is taking major strides toward capturing a starting role on the University of Wisconsin women’s soccer team.
After the 2015 season ended, the Badgers said goodbye to seven starters. With only four returning starters this season, Wisconsin knew they would need to rely on some young talent to propel them to consecutive Big Ten regular season championships.
Now, Wisconsin finds itself more than half way through this season with an even 4-4-4 overall record, finding most of the team’s production from upperclassmen.
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Then there is Rhodes, who has played 11 of the Badgers’ 12 games and recorded 17 shots, eight shots on goal, two points and one score. Not many freshman come into Division I and experience success to this degree, but for Rhodes, it was all a matter of just playing the game the way she knew how.
“All the coaches told me to clear my head, but at the same time, it’s such a different game,” Rhodes said. “I had about a million things going through my head. But at the end of the day, you just got to play soccer and that’s how I approach it now.”
It did not take long for Rhodes to make a name as a Badger — just more than two minutes into the first game, to be exact. In Wisconsin’s season opener against Illinois State, Rhodes scored the first goal of her collegiate career. Not only did the score double as Wisconsin’s first goal of the season, but more importantly, it also proved to be the game-winner as well.
Thanks to some outstanding service on junior forward Sydney McGinnis’s corner kick, Rhodes sent the strike screaming into the bottom right corner of the net. Rhodes also managed to take four shots in the same game, with two of those coming on goal.
“The ball kind of flicked off of someone and bounced out and I knew all I had to do was finish,” Rhodes said. “It was very exciting to be on a new team and have that first goal.”
Receiving nearly as much playing time as the regular starters, Rhodes has seen 546 minutes of action so far this year. Rhodes’ season high for a single game came in a 1-1 double-overtime draw against Milwaukee, when she logged 102 hard-fought minutes.
Rhodes averages 1.55 shots per game over her first 11 matches with the Badgers and she has taken at least two shots in five games. This caliber of contribution from a first-year player has head coach Paula Wilkins foreseeing a bright future for the young forward.
“Dani has a lot of athleticism,” Wilkins said. “She has a good sense of where the ball is going to be. She gets in some good spots. I think she is still going to get better, but I think what she’s bringing to the program right now is very good.”
As a freshman adapting to not only collegiate play, but also collegiate life as a student athlete, Rhodes recalls advice she received from Wilkins at the beginning of the season: “You got to hold your place, you can’t be a freshman. No one cares who’s a freshman and who’s a senior.”
“Every time I think about that, I just know that I can never give less than 100 percent because although I am a freshman, it doesn’t matter what someone is for competition.”
Rhodes and the Badgers will take the field next when they head to Minneapolis Saturday to take on the University of Minnesota (9-2-1, 3-0-1 Big Ten) at 5:30 p.m.