The No. 3 seeded Wisconsin Badgers (10-0-1 Big Ten, 15-3-2 overall) opened the NCAA tournament with a 1-0 win over the Milwaukee Panthers (8-0-1 Horizon League, 17-2-1 Overall).
The Badgers took the lead by a beautifully set up Dani Rhodes goal in the 24th minute. Senior defender Cameron Biegalski whipped in a trademark cross from the right flank which Rhodes sweetly struck on the half volley, beating Milwaukee goalkeeper Elaina LaMacchia.
Four minutes later, a mistake from senior goalkeeper Jordan Bloomer gifted Panthers forward Haley Johnson a chance to level the scoreline, but her shot curled across the face of the goal and out of play.
Milwaukee got their second and final chance of the first half in the 31st minute as a lofted free-kick was flicked on, falling to the feet of Panthers midfielder Rachel Philpotts whose shot flew up over the bar.
Though they were for the most part defensively solid, the Badgers’ only had one shot on target in the first 45 minutes (Dani Rhodes’ goal) and were fortunate to be leading at halftime given the Panthers squandered two clear-cut chances.
A strong start to the second half nearly saw the Badgers extend their lead as a tackle-turned-pass from freshman midfielder Emma Jaskaniec set up junior forward Cameron Murtha whose strike forced a great save out of Elaina LaMacchia.
15 minutes later, Murtha was denied yet again by an impressive save from the Milwaukee goaltender. LaMacchia got just enough of her gloves on the ball, parrying it into the crossbar and was then able to corral the ensuing rebound. LaMacchia made two additional big saves on shots from junior forward Lauren Rice and sophomore midfielder Natalie Viggiano in the 71st and 80th minutes respectively, single-handedly keeping her team in the game.
With 10 minutes left and facing elimination, the Panthers began to push more numbers forward in the hopes of grabbing a tying goal.
Haley Johnson came closest in the 85th minute, but her shot went straight at Jordan Bloomer, who made a comfortable save. Incredibly, this was Bloomer’s first save of the game, the Panthers had failed to register a single shot on target, speaking volumes about the quality of the Badgers’ backline.
With this win, the Badgers advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year and 13th time in program history. Next, they will face the Duke Blue Devils, who are coming off a 4-0 win against Utah. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22.