After guaranteeing at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a 1-0 win over Illinois in their last match, the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (9-0-1 Big Ten, 13-2-2 overall) had a chance to clinch outright on Sunday with a draw or win against the Northwestern Wildcats (3-6-2 Big Ten, 5-10-3 overall) in Evanston.
Not only did they grab regular season silverware, winning 3-1, but they did so with style.
The Badgers were positive from the start as they controlled the match’s tempo early on. Senior forward Dani Rhodes looked to be in on goal in the 11th minute, but Northwestern goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood was quick off her line, making a perfectly timed slide tackle to deny Rhodes an opening goal.
Six minutes later, Rhodes fought past a Northwestern defender giving herself another opportunity to beat Macenzie Wood 1-on-1. This time, Rhodes took a clever touch around the goalkeeper and slotted home her 10th goal of the season, making it two years in a row with double-digit goals for Rhodes.
A well-timed header from Reilly Riggs at the back post brought the Wildcats back to level terms with 22 minutes played. With it now 1-1, the Wildcats came to life, inspired by the equalizing goal.
In the 39th minute, Northwestern midfielder Lily Gilbertson had a golden chance to take the lead as she found herself alone in the box, but her rushed shot flew out for a goal kick.
As time was running out in the first half, it looked as if each side would have to settle for a level scoreline. But then came a moment of pure quality. Badgers junior defender Claire Shea won the ball in the midfield, picked her head up and launched a 40-yard rocket goal-wards. The Northwestern goalkeeper managed to get her fingertips to the ball, but was unable to deny Shea her first career goal for the Badgers as the ball bounced off the crossbar and in, putting the Badgers up 2-0.
In the second half, Dani Rhodes was inches away from matching her goal scoring tally from last season (11 goals) with two separate shots, but both hit the left goalpost. The second shot was especially beautiful, a left-footed curler, seemingly destined for the upper-90, but in the end deflected off the left goalpost.
Although the Badgers had a one-goal cushion, they pressed on in attempt to put the game to rest. They found that killer goal in the 75th minute, when a free kick from junior midfielder Lauren Rice deflected off a Wildcat defender. Goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood did well to make a save initially, but the best she could do was parry the ball up into the crossbar. When it came back down, freshman forward Jenna Kiraly was there to push the ball over the line with her stomach. It put the Badgers up 3-1.
With the 3 points all but secured and the regular season championship a lock, the Badgers kept their composure until the final buzzer sounded, and then celebrations ensued.
The Badgers will finish out the regular season at McClimon Soccer Complex as they host the Ohio State Buckeyes on Wednesday in a rescheduled match, the results of which will determine who the Badgers play in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.