Coming off a disappointing season, the Wisconsin women’s soccer team is off to a flying start and has put the past behind them.
The Badgers continued to find a way to win in their latest game as they overcame the absence of leading scorer Cara Walls and pulled out a 2-1 overtime victory at Michigan State in the Big Ten Conference opener for both schools on Friday.
Wisconsin (7-1, 1-1) has been strong at both ends of the field in the early going of the 2014 season and it has helped them put a lackluster 2013 campaign behind them. The Badgers were 10-7-2 last season and were ousted from the Big Ten Tournament in the first round by Penn State.
Fast forward to this season and the Badgers have been playing some of the best soccer in the country and have moved up to No. 9 in the latest HeroSports poll. Wisconsin has outscored its first seven opponents, 20-2, and went a span of 445:51 between their first goal allowed of the season and Saturday’s tally by Michigan State.
Walls, a senior, leads the team with seven goals this season but was out for the game with the Spartans. A road conference game against a fellow 6-0 team would have been a spot a lot of teams would have slipped up, but this year’s Badgers are a resilient bunch and found a way.
Freshman Becca Harrison picked the perfect time to score the first goals of her Badgers career and they will be memorable ones. She scored in the first half and then in the first minute of overtime to keep Wisconsin unbeaten.
“We talked before the game about how with Cara being out today, we’d need others to step up,” said Wisconsin coach Paula Wilkins, “That was great for Becca. This team continues to kind of roll with any punches thrown its way.”
It was the second overtime victory of the season for the Badgers and helped them tie for the best start in program history. The 7-0 mark could prove to be lucky as the last time Wisconsin got off to a 7-0 start it was 1991 and it went all the way to the NCAA national championship game and finished runner-up.
The early-season run includes a 3-0 blanking of Portland, Wisconsin’s first win against a ranked opponent since 2011.
“Resiliency was something we talked about a lot in the offseason,” Wilkins said, “We talked about how we need to keep positive and keep playing. Again, coming into overtime, they had a different feeling and look than the past. That comes from leadership and experience.”
Wisconsin has been getting contributions from players other than Walls all season, making Friday no surprise other than it being a freshman who stepped up with a two-goal game. Goalie Genevieve Richard entered the season with 25 starts under her belt and has been strong this season with five clean sheets in seven games and junior Kinley McNicoll was named the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Week last week and became Wisconsin’s first Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week since Laurie Nosbusch in 2010.
The Badgers finally met their match Sunday when they dropped their second Big Ten match up to Michigan, 2-1. It was the first time this season that the Badgers surrendered multiple goals. UW is now 7-1 and will play BR-39 Nebraska on September 20th.