With eight of their first ten games being on the road, the No. 18 Wisconsin women’s soccer team (2-0-1 Big Ten, 7-1-2 overall) is coming home to host defending Big Ten champion No. 7 Penn State (3-0-0, 9-1-1) Friday and Ohio State (1-1-1, 7-2-2) Sunday.
The Badgers have been perfect so far on the road (6-0-2). Now they will play six of their final eight games at home.
After two shutouts against No. 13 Michigan (1-1-1, 7-2-1) and Michigan State (1-2-0, 7-2-2) in their past two games, redshirt junior goalkeeper Genevieve Richard earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. She had nine saves over the weekend and remains unbeaten in net on the season (7-0-1).
“Gen’s experience and making big saves in big games throughout her career gives you a lot of confidence,” head coach Paula Wilkins said. “When you see a seasoned player like that take command of the back, it makes your back four look more confident and it sends a confidence throughout the entire team.”
Freshman defender Kylie Schwarz was also Big Ten Freshman of the Week for her strong performances in the center of the back line. She became the fourth Badger to win this award.
“People didn’t know she was sick all week,” Wilkins said. “To be able to play two games with how sick she was, that award is fantastic.”
Despite the two awards being individual by nature, Wilkins saw it as a reflection of a team effort. “Kylie and Gen are a reflection of the whole team,” Wilkins said. “Whenever you get awards, it is because the whole team is successful. The back four was better this whole weekend and I think it’s a shoutout to them and the team defending all together.”
Wisconsin will need strong defensive performances against Penn State. The Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents 23-9 in their past eight games. However, the last time Penn State played a ranked team was Aug. 30 when they lost 5-1 to then No. 5 Virginia.
“They are dynamic, explosive, good on the ball, organized and their transition is good,” Wilkins said. “So they take care of all the details and they will expose you with one little mistake, and so you really have to be focused with what you are trying to do.”
To combat the Nittany Lion offense, the Badgers will look to junior forward Cara Walls to keep on scoring. She has seven goals and three assists on the season, and is on pace to lead Wisconsin in scoring for the third straight season.
While the team is taking the weekend one game at a time, Ohio State will not be overlooked.
“We take it one game at a time,” Wilkins said. “We will focus on Penn State right now. Friday night I will start preparing for Ohio State and Saturday we will all focus our energy on Ohio State.”