Dani Rhodes joked she sort of blacked out just before her winning goal and prayed she got the right touch on the ball.
“I took a touch and just knew I just had to place it,” the junior forward said.
Rhodes’ shot sent the ball just past the Illinois Fighting Illini’s (Big Ten 1-1-0, 6-3-0 overall) junior goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham to give the No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0-1, 7-1-1) a 1-0 walk off win in double overtime. As the ball finally nestled in the bottom corner, Rhodes was on the floor and her teammates rushed out to celebrate the first Big Ten win of the season.
Junior forward Jordan McNeese started the game-winning play as she won the ball at midfield in the second overtime period. She eventually settled it out of the air in a challenge with Wisconsin on a two on one with Rhodes streaking to her side. McNeese played the perfect ball in to Rhodes as the striker scored her second in as many games.
“Jordan [McNeese] had such a great run as she blocked off the defender and kept going with it. She made a great pass,” Rhodes said.
Wisconsin dominated most stretches of the game. Not only did UW keep most of the possession, but the Badgers also had 14 shots with six on goal while the Illini only mustered four total shots.
Despite their offensive issues, Illinois’ nearly broke UW hearts in overtime as junior forward Kelly Maday fired the ball to goal where junior goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer came up with a fingertip save to keep out a sure goal. It was the most important of Bloomer’s two saves and she earned her third clean sheet of the season.
With all Wisconsin’s shots, it was surprising the game went to overtime. McNeese almost scored in the first half off deflection from sophomore forward Cammie Murtha, but Cunningham somehow kept the ball out. The Illinois goalkeeper made five saves on the night to keep her squad in the game despite the offensive onslaught.
Rhodes almost put the game on ice in the second half. After a cross from the right flank, Rhodes brought the ball down in the penalty box with some time and space, but she shanked her shot and it flew above the bar.
The Waukesha native expressed her frustration at the miss by smacking the ground in anger, and she let that miss motivate her.
“There was one [chance] earlier in the game I wish I would’ve finished, so I’m really glad I got [the game-winning goal] because the whole game it was in the back of my mind and I wanted to make up for it,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said despite the team’s near perfect start — their only loss was a 3-0 loss to the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles — there is room for improvement. With their dominance, the team always believed the win would come, the hope was just that it would come sooner. But the star junior is “not yet satisfied.”
“I think that our best games are yet to come,” Rhodes said.
If that’s the case, the Badgers may have a lot more celebrating in their future. The team travels to Ann Arbor for a game against the Michigan Wolverines Thursday the 20th.