The Wisconsin women’s soccer team (1-4-1 Big Ten, 8-5-1 overall) will play the first of its last two home games this season on Friday against Northwestern (0-6-0 Big Ten, 4-8-2 overall) at the McClimon Soccer Complex at 7 p.m.
The Badgers are coming off a road victory against Green Bay and want to keep up the momentum. The team’s focus during practice this week has been going back to the basics.
“For us, going back to details, defending well one-‘v’-one, defending back to goal, and being able to attack in transition are important,” said head coach Paula Wilkins. “Things we did well at the beginning of the season and want to continue to do now.”
Badger players noted the importance of winning the possession battle this weekend.
“[Possession] has always been a key in our performance,” said freshman midfielder Kinley McNicoll. “We need to exploit the wits. Try to get around the back, get around to the touch line, and get some crosses in.”
The Wildcats are winless thus far in Big Ten conference play, and the Badgers will look to keep it that way. This may not be an easy task for Wisconsin, as the Wildcats’ record is somewhat deceptive.
Northwestern has lost eight of their games by two or fewer goals and tied three against quality opponents.
“Every game they have been in in the Big Ten has been close,” said Wilkins. “They haven’t given up many goals, so I think it’s going to be a challenging game.”
The Wildcats are led by standout junior forward Kate Allen. Allen leads the team with six goals and three assists.
Team defense has been the focal topic for the Badgers this week, and they will need that group effort to shut down Allen.
“They have a dangerous player in Kate Allen up front,” said Wilkins. “We’re going to have to take care of the details for us, and actually defend very well as a group.”
The Badgers lead the all-time record (14-5-1) against Northwestern.
Sunday afternoon, the Badgers will have even more of a challenge, as they will square off against Illinois (4-1-1 Big Ten, 7-4-2 overall). The Illini currently stand third in the conference, with their only loss coming from No. 4 Penn State.
Unlike Northwestern, Illinois has no true standout player but is defined by quality team play.
“They are a good dynamic attacking team. Their shape is fantastic. We’re going to have to be really organized,” said Wilkins. “We’re going to have to make sure we defend together as a group, and I think we have to do well in our transition.”
The importance of the games this weekend cannot be stressed enough for a Wisconsin team looking to jump up the standings to lock up spot in the conference tournament.
“Right now we’re in tenth in the Big Ten,” said junior forward Paige Adams. “We definitely need to come out with a couple wins, keep our confidence up, and let us move forward,” said junior midfielder Paige Adams.
All-time, the Fighting Illini lead the series 10-6-1, but the Badgers are hoping to add a loss to that record, as well as their name in the playoffs.