The University of Wisconsin women’s soccer team (6–1–0) opens their Big Ten schedule versus Northwestern (6–0–1) this Friday followed by a visit from Illinois (6–2–0) on Sunday from the McClimon Soccer Complex.

Northwestern may be among Wisconsin’s most challenging opponents this year despite losing several seniors last year. Perhaps the most notable departure was star goalie Lauren Clem, who had a phenomenal .839 save percentage and 11 shutouts in 2017.

But the Badgers should not be overly excited to face Clem’s replacement Mackenzie Wood. Though against non-conference competition, Wood has a .957 save percentage with six shutouts in the team’s seven games.

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Wisconsin will look for revenge after last year when they dropped both games versus Northwestern 2–0 and 2–1, the latter eliminating Wisconsin from Big Ten Tournament contention.

But early in the season this Wisconsin team seems much different than last year’s. What was then a young offensive core apart from forward Dani Rhodes has now blossomed into a fierce group of strikers.

Lauren Rice currently leads the team with four goals while Cameron Murtha leads in assists with four.

Rhodes, on the other hand, has struggled early this season. The forward has yet to score with only three of her 18 shots being on goal.

These struggles could be the lingering effects of a foot injury that sidelined Rhodes for several weeks in the preseason and kept her out of the first game versus Marquette. That being said, we know a healthy Rhodes has the potential to carry a team offensively. In 2017, she lead Wisconsin in goals, assists as well as nearly every other offensive statistic.

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Another story to follow is the early season success of Jordyn Bloomer. In her first year replacing longtime starter Caitlyn Clem, Bloomer has done well to keep the Badgers in contests, allowing less than a goal per game with a .708 save percentage.

Wisconsin will play Illinois, who have also had a strong start to the season, Sunday. The Fighting Illini’s leader, with four goals and two assists, is senior Katie Murray. Prior to this season, Murray had just two goals and zero assists as a starter in 2017.

Friday night’s game versus Northwestern starts at 7 p.m. from the McClimon Complex. Live coverage of the Illinois game will be available on BTN Plus.