The Wisconsin women's soccer team enters its 2012 campaign cautiously optimistic, as head coach Paula Wilkins and the Badgers feature a balance of battle-tested veterans and ambitious newcomers.
The Badgers return 15 letter winners from a team that went 10-7-3 last season and finished fourth in the final Big Ten standings. Among the returners is senior defender Lindsey Johnson and sophomore forward Cara Walls. Johnson returns after earning All-Big Ten second-team honors, as well as All-Great Lakes second-team accolades in 2011. Walls started 17 games as a freshman and led the Badgers in points (19) and goals (9) en route to earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team last season.
Wisconsin also returns senior midfielders Joana Bielefeld and Monica Lam-Feist in 2012. Bielefeld started every game last season and is poised for a successful 2012 campaign after tallying four points on two assists and a goal last season, while Lam-Feist has missed only one start over the last three years.
For the Wisconsin women's soccer team, the 2012 season will be somewhat of a rebuilding process, as the Badgers lost Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Michele Dalton to graduation and return only five starters from 2011.
After Wilkins gave eventual conference champ Penn State its one and only loss of the Big Ten slate last season, Wisconsin looked like the team to beat en route to the conference crown. This season the Badgers are poised to regain their stature as one of the most dominant teams in the Big Ten and will look to make a run toward a conference championship and its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last four years.
Goalie is the most promising position for the Badgers, but is also the area that raises the most questions. Wilkins has two upperclassmen vying for the open spot in net, with junior Genevieve Richard also in the running once she returns from her trip to Japan with the Canadian National Team.
Seniors Olivia Hoff and Lauren Gunderson returned to preseason camp poised to replace Dalton in goal and have already pushed each other throughout the first few weeks of practice heading into the regular-season home opener. Gunderson and Hoff have impressed coaches in different ways so far, and Wilkins believes the competition will only make each of them even more solid as camp progresses.
It is hard to say whether either of the three has the ability to be as dominant as Dalton, who exited the UW as one of the most accomplished goalies in school history, but the fact that Wilkins has a choice between a pair of seniors and a junior, who will be returning from international play, bodes well for the Badgers heading into 2012.