The University of Wisconsin women’s soccer team came into the 2018 season with significant expectations alongside a slew of obstacles the team will need to overcome.

They came into the year ranked No. 5 out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten. Wisconsin also boasted three Preseason All Big Ten members in Dani Rhodes, Cameron Murtha and Victoria Pickett.

Now veterans on a very young roster, Rhodes and Pickett both earned the preseason honor before the 2017 season as well while finishing the year on second and first-team All Big Ten respectively. Rhodes, a junior forward, has been a fixture in the Wisconsin lineup leading the team in both goals and assists last year.

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Pickett may not put up the flashy numbers of her striker teammates but the midfielder has been a spectacle to watch on the field for years. Perhaps the senior’s most impressive individual accolade came last season when she made All Big Ten First Team, the only Badger to do so in 2017.

Murtha, on the other hand, is newer to the spotlight and is making a name for herself within the Big Ten in just her second year with the team. After the Badgers went to a more front heavy lineup at the end of last year the forward shined, scoring three goals in the last six contests of the regular season.

But Rhodes realizes these accomplishments would not be possible without the strong team she has around her.

“I think that [preseason awards] just show that we have some well-rounded players that are returning and also just respect for our team because obviously, no one does that alone,” Rhodes said. “But I think it motivates us to get more honors or excel our team forward more.”

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While the Badgers boast an impressive 4–1 record to start the year, these wins come with mixed levels of competition in Marquette, Kentucky, Washington and Portland.

Marquette, who the Badgers beat in their first game, has yet to win a match this season. The Badgers traveled to Kentucky who was 3–0 before the game versus Wisconsin but have now dropped their last three contests.

During their West Coast road trip, Wisconsin took on both Washington and Portland in Seattle for the Nike Husky Invitational winning both contests 2–1. While Washington finished last year in the latter half of the Pac-12, they still play in an excellent conference that boasts four nationally ranked teams this year.

Portland has been less than impressive in recent years finishing dead last in the Western Coast Conference in 2017. The team finished with 5–13–1 with a 2–7–0 conference record.

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But Wisconsin fell short in their toughest challenge to date against No. 20 Florida State. The Seminoles shut the Badgers out 3–0 in a game defined by errors and missed opportunities.

Despite the tight score, Rhodes felt that UW failed to live up to their potential in the matchup.

“Florida State’s a great team and they’re ranked but I think we lost that game for ourselves,” Rhodes said. “We had a few moments where we broke down and we gave them a few goals. They only had six shots and they scored three of them.”

On top of the three goals allowed, there were several other close calls for new keeper Jordyn Bloomer who was forced to make several quick decisions after some gaffes by the Badgers’ backfield.

Though these kinds of mistakes will come with having a younger team, Rhodes feels the energy that comes with newer players can outweigh some of the mental errors the team must work through.

“We have a lot of young players coming in,” Rhodes said. “Whether they’re on the bench or not they’re pushing everyone and that’s the big thing is our bench makes us better.”

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Despite setbacks, Rhodes said she’s seen improvement in the outside midfielders, where where sophomore Maia Cella has inserted herself into the lineup.

When asked which players had improved most in the off-season, Rhodes glowed about Cella’s tenacious attitude both on the field and in practice.

“I think that [Cella] stands out to pretty much the whole team and I think that she’s given everyone a run for their money in practice,” Rhodes said. “She’s just nonstop.”

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Looking forward, Wisconsin’s next challenges will be finishing up their non-conference schedule at home versus Illinois State Thursday and Loyola Chicago Sunday. But the Badgers’ biggest challenges may come with the start of Big Ten play.

Wisconsin’s Big Ten schedule begins against Northwestern, one of the four teams polled ahead of the Badgers in the conference, at home Sept. 14.

Penn State, Ohio State and Rutgers are the other teams currently ranked ahead of Wisconsin in the Big Ten. The Badgers play Ohio State and Rutgers later on but will have to wait until the Big Ten Tournament for a potential matchup versus the Nittany Lions who Wisconsin upset 2–0 in the end of regular season last year.

With a roster that will only develop more as the year goes on, the 2018 season looks to be both promising and exciting for the women’s soccer team.