After a 2018 fall defined by regular season promise that ultimately failed to play out in the postseason, the Badgers (4-1-1) are off to a characteristically hot start in 2019.
In 2018, the Badgers failed to advance past the first round of the Big Ten postseason tournament following a heart-breaking overtime penalty kick loss to Illinois.
But despite the disappointment felt towards their loss to the Illini, a team they previously beat in the regular season, the Badgers soldered on to the NCAA tournament where they handily defeated their first two opponents.
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Only the No.1 ranked team at the time — the Stanford Cardinals — managed to stop the Badgers in the middle of their late-season heater.
Defeated by a score of 0–1, the Badgers put up a formidable fight to the Cardinals who, in turn, advanced all the way to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament before falling to Florida State 0–2.
The Badgers showed promise in the end of their season even as they ultimately failed to advance past the sweet sixteen of the NCAA tournament.
Perhaps most crucial to the hope that the Badgers can build upon this feat is the fact that they returned four of their top five goal scorers from their previous season’s squad.
Lauren Rice, Cameron Murtha, Maia Cella and leading-scorer Dani Rhodes all return for either their junior or senior seasons with the team.
These four players constituted the core of offensive production for the Badgers in 2018, and the majority of them certainly did not let their foot off the gas pedal coming into 2019.
Rhodes and Murtha are tied for a team-leading two goals through just six games of the season. Rice also scored a goal this season, one of only five players on the team to have done so up to this point.
The Badgers’ offensive prowess most clearly demonstrated itself in their two wins at the end of the season versus Memphis and Hofstra University who they defeated 3–0 and 6–0, respectively.
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Luckily for the Badgers, the players who both drove this stunning performance to cap the season returned and are back in business for 2019.
On the other side of the field, returning for the Badgers following her opening season is junior goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer.
Despite her lack of experience coming into the 2018 season, Bloomer performed impressively as she attempted to follow in the footsteps of the previous goalkeeper Caitlyn Clem.
Head coach Paula Wilkins spoke of Bloomer after the 2018 season.
“She stepped up to the task,” Wilkins said. “She did everything we could have asked her to do.”
Bloomer is once again filling the shoes of her predecessors in 2019. Off to a blazing start, she has allowed just three goals in the first six games of the season.
Furthermore, Bloomer’s save percentage is 81.3% — already higher than the total she managed to acquire at the end of 2018.
The Badgers, led by Bloomer, also tallied a highly impressive three shutouts in just their first six games of the year.
All the pieces are in place for a Badger squad ready to build upon the success it reached for in the 2018 season.
From a set of returning offensive threats who power their offensive to a stalwart keeper who shows no signs of weakness, the Badgers are set to make another postseason run in 2019.
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The season is still in its early stages, but the Badgers already improved their performances against top ranked opponents.
In just their second game of the season, the Badgers faced Florida State, the team that defeated Stanford in the 2018 NCAA tournament and ultimately went on to win the national title.
In 2018, Florida State defeated the Badgers 3–0 early in the season. The scoreline this season? Just 1–0 in favor of the No. 1 ranked Seminoles.
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The Badgers, currently ranked No. 15 in the nation, still fell to FSU, but their loss came after a hard fought game that ended in the first half of overtime play.
It’s possible this game was an anomaly. Yet with such a strong set of experienced players, it doesn’t seem likely.
The Badgers certainly proved they have the talent and experience needed to compete with the best teams in the nation. Now, they must go out and execute down the stretch as they failed to do in 2018.