While some may look at the short spring women’s soccer season as a mere taste test for what’s to come in the main fall season, the games still have pertinence. Players will get the chance to dust off the winter cobwebs and get some valuable game time under their belts before a growing list of new recruits to join them in the fall.
This past Sunday, to kick off their spring season, the University of Wisconsin women’s soccer team headed down to Rockford, Illinois to face the Chicago Red Stars, a National Women’s Soccer League team. While the results were not released to the public, the game was a useful pre-season hit out for both sides. The Red Stars season starts on March 25, and the Badgers spring season a few weeks later on the April 15.
Though the Wisconsin women were up against pro competition, head coach Paula Wilkins saw the game against Chicago as an opportunity for growth.
“Well I think it was a bit eye-opening for us in many different ways,” said Wilkins. “What it taught us is to not take anything for granted — that our preparation for next year has to be super focused and that we have a lot of spots that we still need to get better at in general. A new goalkeeper in goal with Jordyn Bloomer. Sorting out the back line again because of some injuries that we had. I think that gives us a place to start. And looking at it moving to play Notre Dame in a couple weeks, I think it was a great learning tool for sure.”
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Though high usage players like Dani Rhodes and Lauren Rice will return this year, as Wilkins noted, the Badgers are looking for a new goalie to replace long-term starter, Caitlyn Clem. Jordyn Bloomer, the only keeper on the roster with any in-game experience, is currently leading for the position.
Following this pre-season match up the team will be turning their eyes towards games against Notre Dame, Marquette, Missouri and Milwaukee.
If past results are anything to go by, the Badgers will be looking to turn the tables on Notre Dame, having won only twice in their 17 previous meetings.
But they have enjoyed more success against Marquette and Milwaukee with seven previous wins over Marquette and 21 wins over Milwaukee, having played them 14 and 33 times respectively.
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Missouri is the most unfamiliar opponent of the spring games with the two sides having not played each other since 2006, with the bragging rights currently shared at one win each all-time.
Speaking in a more recent context, of these four opponents the Badgers only came up against one of them last season, playing Marquette in an exhibition match early on in the schedule. That matchup resulted in a 4-1 win for the Badgers, a performance they will be looking to replicate when they meet again on April 20.
This slate of four games in April makes up the UW women’s soccer spring schedule for 2018. Two of the games, vs. Marquette and Milwaukee will be played at home at the McClimon Complex.
The McClimon Complex has been a field of great success for UW women’s soccer in recent times, only being beaten once in 10 games on their home turf this past season. A season which saw them finish with a record of 14 wins, six losses and two draws but finished with a tough one-nil loss to number one ranked South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
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Though the Badgers fell short, Coach Wilkins was happy that her team could stay competitive in high-pressure games versus top competition.
“Any time you get a chance to play in those high-pressure games you learn something about yourself and you also build a little bit of confidence. We walked away from that game saying we can play with a team of that quality and that’s the era where we want to get to. So every time we get to play those teams it’s just exciting for me because you can see players just raise their levels and that’s related a little bit to training,” said Wilkins.
Considering last season’s results, the amount of returning players and the exciting new group of talent that will be joining in the fall, the outlook is positive for the upcoming season.
Especially with the news that the team will continue to be guided by six-time Big Ten coach of the year Paula Wilkins. It was recently announced that Wilkins’ contract would be extended three years, meaning she will remain at the helm until at least 2021.
Since taking over as the head coach at Wisconsin in 2009 Wilkins has guided the women’s soccer team to more than 100 wins and six NCAA Tournament appearances. Wilkins holds an impressive career coaching record of 240-91-45 and has claim to the highest win percentage all-time among Big Ten women’s soccer coaches with 10 or more years of experience.
Coach Wilkins and the Badger women will look forward to their next game April 15 against Notre Dame in South Bend.