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Saturday, December 09, 2023

Women's Soccer: Crucial Big Ten test looms

After an enormous road win in Minneapolis, the Badgers (7-2-1 Big Ten, 13-2-1 overall) will take on Rutgers (7-2-1, 11-2-1) Friday in what will be the Badgers’ most important game of the season thus far.

Rutgers stands tied with Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings in points (22) and record. Each team has a viable shot at claiming the conference title if one of the teams can come out victorious in this game. Both schools stand five points behind Big Ten leader Penn State (9-1-0) but can cut the deficit to just two points with a win.

Rutgers will come into the game with dampened spirits after falling to Northwestern 1-0 last Sunday. On the other side, Wisconsin will be riding high after its defeat of Minnesota.

“I'm very excited. I feel like the team is moving in the right direction on what part of the season that we're in. And hopefully peaking at the right time,” said head coach Paula Wilkins in a press conference Monday.

Rutgers, like Wisconsin, is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten. They are led by freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy who is first in the conference in goals against average, posting a mark of 0.42. She is ninth in the conference in saves made, which is not a blemish against her goaltending, but rather a testament to Rutgers’ strong defensive play. Murphy has also posted eight shutouts, just one behind Big Ten leader Genevieve Richard, Wisconsin’s redshirt senior goalkeeper.

Richard, who has been named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week two times, matches each of Murphy’s impressive statistics with strong marks of her own. Her goals against average of 0.46 is higher than Murphy’s by an extremely slim margin. Richard’s save percentage of 0.883 edges out Murphy’s 0.882 percentage by an even slimmer margin. With two of the premier goalies in the Big Ten, this game figures to be a low-scoring affair.

“They don't give up many goals. So it's going to be a hard-fought game against two teams that don't like to give up goals,” Wilkins said.

However, Wisconsin certainly has an explosive offense to complement its defense, led by senior forward Cara Walls who is hitting her stride and getting back to 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury earlier in the season. She has scored 11 goals on just 13 shots on goal and leads the Big Ten with five game-winning goals.

Rutgers will turn to sophomore forward Madison Tiernan and senior forward Stefanie Scholz, who each have five goals and two assists. Unlike Wisconsin, Rutgers lacks a prolific goal scorer but is instead led by a balanced offensive attack and a stout defense.

Friday’s game at the McClimon Sports Complex will begin at 7 p.m. and determine who will challenge Penn State for the Big Ten title as the regular season comes to a close next week.

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