The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers women’s soccer team (13-2-2) is on an absolute tear for the second straight season. With an undefeated record in Big Ten competition, they are poised for another deep run in the NCAA tournament to match an impressive regular season performance.
So far, the Badgers have stuck to familiar weapons on offense to secure such an impressive record in conference and non-conference play. Primarily, this manifests itself in massive offensive contributions from senior forward Dani Rhodes. The consistent leader in goal production is back in business in a major way for the Badgers this year.
With a total of 10 goals through 17 games, Rhodes is by far the team leader in scoring. The next closest team member, Cameron Murtha, has just half the total goals on the season. While five goals is an impressive amount in its own right, the discrepancy between the two clearly demonstrates just how impressive a performance Rhodes is putting on for the Badgers.
There also exists a large difference between Murtha and a host of competitors with two total goals on the season. Lauren Rice, Emma Jaskaniec and Jenna Kiraly have all managed to score two goals on a piece throughout the season. Such a significant stratification of goal scoring demonstrates just how implemental Murtha and Rhodes have been in achieving a high level of success for the team as a whole.
While Rhodes’ and Murtha’s contributions drive offensive production, a stalwart defense has been just as, if not more, important to the Badgers’ dominant performances throughout the season. Goalie Jordyn Bloomer is a large part of that sturdy defense as she currently has just over an 86% save rate on the season — good for 21st in the nation.
Overall, the Badgers have allowed a grand total of eight goals on the season for an average of just 0.47 goals per game. Only on one occasion did they allow a team to score more than one goal in a game as they tied Iowa 2–2 in double overtime at home.
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With this combination of concentrated offensive production from the team’s scoring leaders and a defense that is extremely stingy, the Badgers have mostly avoided disaster en route to their undefeated record in the Big Ten and their No. 9 national ranking. In truth, there is only one slight blemish on the Badgers’ record so far.
Both of their losses came to teams currently ranked within the top 25 in Division I. One was to Florida State who is currently both the reigning national champion and ranked No. 3 in the nation. The other loss came to UCLA who, at the time, was ranked No. 5 in the nation. The Bruins slipped down in the rankings throughout the season, currently finding themselves ranked 20th in the nation.
This loss marks the only Badger loss on the season to a team that is currently at a lower rank than them nationally. Even then, it came against a talented Bruins squad that still has the opportunity to compete for an NCAA title later in the year.
The Badgers similarly had a strong regular season showing last year as they sought to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament at the end of 2018. Despite a total record of 14-4-4, the Badgers went just 6-2-3 in the Big Ten. This includes an early exit in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament after a loss to Illinois. The Badgers would then go on to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament following the Big Ten playoffs before falling to Stanford.
That loss perhaps indicated that, while the Badgers were certainly able to acquire a strong regular season record, they weren’t quite ready to continue that domination in postseason Big Ten play.
If this was the case, then this year bodes even better for the Badgers’ chances to have a legitimate shot at a national title. Their Big Ten play has been impeccable and, other than a couple losses to top five teams, they’ve looked nearly unstoppable. With their recent win over Northwestern, the Badgers also claimed an automatic share of the Big Ten title even before the season is over. This marks just the third time in team history the team has claimed at least a share of the conference title.
To improve upon last year’s performance, the simple solution may very well be to do more of the same. In a year in which the men’s team has failed to live up to expectations, the women’s program is picking up the slack by contending at the national level for a shot at a national championship.
The weapons cultivated by this team seem to show no signs of slowing down as the season progresses, and there exists no reason to believe that the level of success they have achieved up to this point is not indicative of their overall talent level.
With Rhodes supplying an astronomical number of goals alongside a stalwart goalkeeping performance from Bloomer, the Badgers are looking nearly impossible to stop.
The road to a national title will be anything but easy. Each aspect of the team will have to continue to fire on all cylinders if they are to finish strong.