On Sunday the Wisconsin women’s soccer team will have a shot at clinching an NCAA tournament berth and their first Big Ten tournament championship in seven years when they take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the conference title match in University Park.
In the Hawkeyes, they’ll be taking on perhaps the hottest team in college soccer- entering the postseason as the 12 seed, Iowa has since ripped off upset wins over Illinois, Minnesota, and #4 Penn State over the last two weeks of tournament play. To say such a run of form was unexpected is an understatement, and few stats illustrate this turnaround more clearly than the scoresheet: the Hawkeyes have doubled their regular season goal total (2) in just three games of tournament play (5). Dave Dilanni’s side know their only way to Cary is through a Big Ten title and will present a very tough matchup for the Badgers.
One of Iowa’s greatest assets on their Cinderella run thus far has been their stout defense. They’ve only conceded once all tournament, and have shutout in their last two games (and it’s difficult to emphasize how hard it is keeping a clean sheet against a Penn State team that scored on the Big Ten for fun this year). The Hawkeyes’ defense is anchored by freshman goalkeeper Macy Enneking, who took over the starting role midseason and has been between the pipes for all five of Iowa’s wins this season. She’s usually protected by a backline of Sara Wheaton, Diane Senkowski, Aliesha Ganief, and Samantha Cary - but Cary will be out against the Badgers after she received a red card in the Penn State match. Natalie Massa was Cary’s replacement against the Nittany Lions and will likely get her second start of the season on Sunday.
The Hawkeyes play with three in the center of the park (though at times against Penn State they were marshaled so far back that they played a flat five across), with two traditional sixes and one 10. Occupying the defensive midfield slots are redshirt junior Josie Durr and true freshman Rielee Fetty, both of whom have combined to start every game but one so far for Iowa this season and serve as the linchpins at the base of the Hawkeye midfield. Hailey Rydberg plays ahead of them helping to set up the attack - and she doesn’t just lead the team in assists (3), she’s the only player on the roster to have registered an assist this season at all.
Iowa’s front three consists of two wide players and a target striker, an attacking trident that has really found its form in recent weeks. Jenny Cape is the first of the wingers, and the Brookfield native will enjoy the chance to knock off her home state school on Sunday. Leading the line is Samantha Tawharu, one of just a couple of players who have almost never left the field this year for the Hawkeyes. The junior occupies the center forward role, tasked with working the channels and helping to link the forward line together. Completing the attack on the other side of Tawharu is Meike Ingles, who has had amazing run form throughout the tournament, scoring in each of the Hawkeyes three postseason matches so far.
Off the Bench:
Though Dilanni has opted to sub less and less as the tournament has gone on (with only two substitute players entering the match against Penn State), one name that consistently appears off the bench is Olivia Hellweg. The junior midfielder can also play on the backline and helps to add some defensive bite to the center that’s been instrumental for the Hawkeyes when they’ve closed out leads. Another substitute to keep an eye out for could be Gianna Gourley - the freshman didn’t play in the semi-final but was the only player off the bench to score in the regular season, and can add another dimension to the Iowa attack when she comes in.
Wisconsin will take on Iowa tomorrow for the B1G Championship at 12pm CT, with the game broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.