After a brief slump where the Badgers fell to Penn State and tied Iowa, Wisconsin (6-2-1 Big Ten, 12-2-1 overall) heads to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota (5-3-1, 8-6-1) this Saturday.
The Badgers defeated Northwestern last weekend to stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title. The victory over Northwestern gave Wisconsin its 19th conference point, moving the team within two points of leaders Penn State and Michigan. Minnesota is certainly no slouch though, sitting just behind Wisconsin with 16 points.
“We need to refocus on the things we do well and get back to the things we’ve been good at,” said senior forward Cara Walls. “We know Minnesota is going to be a great team, but if we’re on our game, we’ll be successful.”
Walls, the team leader in goals with nine this year, pointed to the team’s excellent possession and patience as reasons for their success. She emphasized the need to return to these strong suits of their game to win against Minnesota. In addition to leading the team, Walls is third in the Big Ten in goals scored and leads the conference with five game-winning goals. However, she does not take much of the credit.
“My teammates are the reason for my success,” Walls said. “Being a forward, I can’t do much without my teammates getting the ball to me and they’ve done a great job doing that.”
Much of this can be attributed to the Badger midfielders, redshirt senior Kodee Williams, junior Kinley McNicoll and sophomore Rose Lavelle, who have combined for a total of 20 assists. Walls also gave credit to redshirt senior goalkeeper Genevieve Richard for her stellar play. Richard has earned nine shutouts this year, which leads the Big Ten.
For Minnesota, the Gophers are led by sophomore forward Simone Kolander, who has five goals and eight assists. Her eight assists are third in the Big Ten and she is tied for fifth in total points. Defensively, sophomore Tarah Hobbs will do the goalkeeping. She is second in the Big Ten in saves with 63 and has recorded five shutouts.
The Badgers will need a win Saturday to keep pace in the Big Ten. In addition to Minnesota, they still have three regular season conference games to capture the title, including a matchup against Rutgers, who they are currently tied with in the standings.
Michigan and Penn State each have five games left in the Big Ten, including a huge contest for supremacy between the two schools this Thursday in Ann Arbor.
“A Big Ten title would mean a lot. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot. It’s been our goal since January,” Walls said. “Being a senior, it’d be a great way to go out. I can’t think of a better way to end my career here.”
The Badgers will look to keep their title hopes alive Saturday at 7 p.m. in Minneapolis.