From the opening kickoff of their matchup with Creighton (0-2), Wisconsin (2-1) looked absolutely dominant. The Badgers controlled the pace and pushed the ball up field, creating opportunity after opportunity. Really, from the get-go, there was little doubt that Wisconsin was going to rebound from its 5-0 loss to then No. 2 Stanford. Ultimately, UW’s pace and attack driven mentality lifted them to a convincing 2-0 win over the Bluejays.
“We wanted to set the tone. When we played Stanford, we were a little bit more apprehensive, and we decided we don’t want to be at that tone and that we want to get at stuff,” head coach Paula Wilkins said. “We wanted to put them under a lot of pressure, so I was happy with our pace.”
Part of the Badgers’ early dominance was dictated by their strong defensive play. Essentially, every time Creighton tried to play a cross into the box, a Wisconsin defender deflected it away. Creighton couldn’t even manage a first half shot attempt, and only recorded four of those plays the entire game.
“I was really happy with the performance of [senior midfielder] Alexis Tye and [junior midfielder] Victoria Pickett in the middle, doing really good things defensively,” Wilkins said. And then [freshman defender] Sammy Kleedtke and [sophomore defender] Grace Douglas, they just commanded it. They really learned from that Stanford game–what tempo we need to be at defensively.”
Once Wisconsin disrupted the Jays’ attack, it countered quickly into its offensive game. All game long, UW strove to drive the ball wide, and create opportunities off of crosses into the box. Sophomore defender Camryn Biegalski headlined the Badgers’ attack, constantly taking the ball strong to the right wing, and flinging ball after ball into the box, looking for a UW head or foot.
“That’s kind of how the game went. Creighton was going to put a lot of people in the middle of the field,” Wilkins said. “Their system was conducive to that, so we thought if we switched the point of attack on them, we were going to be much more effective getting around the corner.”
While Biegalski headlined Wisconsin’s outside-in attack, all of the Badgers followed suit, including multiple UW freshman. Four freshman started against Creighton, and all four played significant minutes. Kleedtke, specifically, has been the lone Badger—outside of redshirt senior goalkeeper Caitlyn Clem—to play all 270 minutes so far this season.
“The freshman are big, and the biggest thing is that they get better every single practice and they get better every single game,” Wilkins said. “Where they are at the beginning of preseason and where they are now and then where they’re going to be in three games is completely different, and they’re willing to have a growth mindset and be really successful at what they’re doing.”
Eventually, Wisconsin’s dedication to crossing the ball and its willingness to play freshman paid off, as freshman forward Cameron Murtha broke the tie in the 52nd minute, scoring off of a corner kick for the first goal of her UW career.
“It honestly feels so good. I was watching it go in and I was like, please go in, it was bouncing off every post, and I was so relieved when it went in, honestly,” Murtha said. “There was a lot of excitement, but we were 0-0, and it was the second half, so a lot of it was relief, like, ‘Oh, we finally got one in.’”
Wisconsin, though, has a quick turnaround as it faces off against Northern Illinois (1-0-1) this Sunday at home. If the Badgers can continue to get contributions from their freshman and use effective counterattacks, then they will likely find similar success against the Huskies.