Wisconsin (7-1-0) returns home this week after a pair of Big Ten road games over the weekend. No. 9 Wisconsin defeated Michigan State (6-2-0) Friday in an overtime barnburner, where freshman midfielder Becca Harrison found the back of the net in the 91st minute, her second goal of the game.
However, the Badgers dropped their first contest of the season Sunday in a last-second loss to Michigan (6-2-0). Michigan’s Ani Sarkisian scored the go-ahead goal with one second left on the game clock. Coach Paula Wilkins met with the media Monday to discuss the weekend and the Badgers’ upcoming games.
“We were really excited on Friday to get the overtime win against Michigan State, who was undefeated, for our first Big Ten win,” Wilkins said. “Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed with our results on Sunday against Michigan where we lost in the last second of the game.”
Coach Wilkins pointed to several reasons for their tough loss Sunday, including overall fatigue and Michigan’s difficult game plan.
“Driving to Michigan, Michigan State was hard travel. Our legs were pretty tired on Sunday,” Wilkins said. “Michigan presented a really difficult challenge. They played five in the back, which we had not seen and we could not really break it down.”
Even though the loss to Michigan was tough to stomach for Wilkins, she was quick to point out the positives that a difficult defeat can bring.
“I do think this gives us a great opportunity to refocus ourselves and get back to what we do well,” said Wilkins.
As for their early success, Wilkins pointed to the senior leadership, most notably senior forward Cara Walls, who is third in the country in goals scored. However, Walls didn’t play in either game this weekend and Wilkins indicated her health was still shaky.
UW faces a formidable opponent this weekend in defending Big Ten champion Nebraska. It plays at home at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Badgers took care of business this weekend with three victories at the UW Fieldhouse in the HotelRed Invitational. They have now compiled a record of 8-0 to start the season. However, coach Kelly Sheffield glazed over this past weekend, instead focusing on the huge week ahead. They will play two outstanding Pac-12 teams this week, the USC Trojans (6-2) and the other undefeated UW, the Washington Huskies (9-0).
“It’s an opportunity to measure yourself against some of the best. I think our kids are pretty jacked up going into this weekend,” Sheffield said.
Sheffield also discussed how this would help Wisconsin prepare for the Big Ten season, a conference that will include marquee matchups against defending national champion Penn State, perennial powerhouse Nebraska and four other Top 25 teams.
“When you get a phone call from these two teams [USC and Washington] that are wanting to play you, I don’t want to turn that down. I think it’s great experience and a great opportunity for us,” Sheffield said.
Coach Sheffield talked about how difficult it would be to defend against one of the best servers in the game, USC junior Samantha Bricio, as well as Washington’s senior Krista Vansant, last year’s National Player of the Year. But Sheffield was quick to praise his team’s improvement in passing, an area which he believes is capable of handling the competition this week.
“Our passers have gotten a lot better. I think they are at a point where they are very competent seeing servers like this [Bricio],” Sheffield said.
The Badgers will face two storied programs Thursday and Friday in Seattle, an excellent test for the looming Big Ten season.
Coming off a bye week, the Badgers (1-1) will take on the Bowling Green Falcons (2-1), who just defeated Indiana last week. Coach Gary Andersen stressed that the defending MAC champions are no slouch.
“Bowling Green is a very, very good offensive team. Very good at the wide receiver position. Very good at the running back position. And they are very efficient on the offensive side of the football,” Andersen said.
After a game against Western Illinois where the running game struggled, Wisconsin’s high-powered rushing attack will look to get back on track this weekend.
“We want to run the ball better. That’s all of us. That’s everybody involved in the run game, including myself,” Andersen said. “Do we expect to run the ball better this week than we did in week two? Yes, we do.”
Despite redshirt junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy’s early struggles, Coach Andersen pointed to the passing game as an essential key to the Badgers’ win against Western Illinois and their future game plan.
“If you can’t throw it, it’s going to be tough sledding against anybody when they’re that ganged up on you, and we were able to fortunately throw the ball, and hopefully we continue to do that and that will back some people off,” Andersen said.
Additionally, Coach Andersen discussed McEvoy’s continuing progress as a quarterback. He certainly has had his struggles, but he turned in an excellent performance against Western Illinois, completing 23 of 28 passes.
“He has a tendency to try to make everything happen for himself—[he needs to] let the offense come to him when it’s there; and when it’s not, let’s go make a decision and let’s let our legs work,” Andersen said.
A confident Bowling Green team comes into Saturday after a last minute defeat of Indiana last week. While fans may be expecting a walk in the park, Coach Andersen is fully prepared for a battle against a quality team.
“This will be a tremendous challenge,” Andersen said. “We need to make sure we do all we can because we’ll be challenged in this football game.”