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As the saying goes, college is the fastest four years of your life.
Six seniors on the University of Wisconsin women's soccer team had an opportunity to extend their college soccer experience by doing something only 16 other senior classes have accomplished at UW -- earning a bid to the NCAA Women's Soccer Championships.
After a 12-7-1 mark, the Badger senior class guided the UW to its third NCAA tournament berth in four years. Many of the current seniors experienced Wisconsin's 2009 Sweet 16 run, so the success the team saw this season was unprecedented, and frankly inevitable.
Supported by talented underclassmen, seniors Lauren Gunderson, Olivia Hoff, Erin Jacobsen, Monica Lam-Feist, Lindsey Hamannm Joana Bielefeld and Lindsey Johnson, led a Badgers squad that was arguably one of UW head coach Paula Wilkins' strongest teams to date.
Considering Wilkins has a 21-8 overall record in NCAA tournament games, including a pair of College Cup Semifinal appearances, the fact that she described this year's squad as "special" is no small accolade.
The impact of the senior class rippled through the entire season, like a wave that travels across a large body of water, from one shore to another. It all began with the Badgers' season-opening win over Notre Dame -- the Badgers second win over the Fighting Irish all-time -- which was secured by a game-winning goal from Lam-Feist, a 2012 second team All-Big Ten honoree.
Gunderson sparked the Badgers' 3-0 start, posting three-consecutive shutouts and finishing with five on the season. Bielefeld and Johnson were the unsung heroes at the midfielder and defender positions, respectively, deflecting nearly every potential scoring opportunity that threatened UW's keepers. Bielefeld also contributed a pair of goals in 2012 -- both were game-winning goals. Hoff, Hamann and Jacobsen all played supporting roles, but were instrumental in their team's development.
The 2012 class was vital in the success of the Wisconsin women's soccer program in more ways than one -- but more importantly, Wilkins' first recruiting class played the biggest role of all in laying the foundation for future classes to come.
12:05 a.m.: The team hits the hotel once more to shower and, after a couple hours of lay time, heads to the airport to catch a red-eye flight to Minneapolis, then to Chicago. It's been a great trip and we can't wait to see what the spring and fall has in store for us.
Friday, Nov. 9
6:12 p.m.: The Badgers head to Drake Stadium for the team's final organized practice prior to tomorrow's NCAA opening-round match vs. third-seeded UCLA.
12:54 p.m.: With a little bit of free time to roam, the Badgers hit Santa Monica Pier for a little shopping and sight-seeing.
10:48 a.m.: Becky
McGrath and Marta Wangard lounge in the lobby as the squad awaits the green
light on heading out to Santa Monica Pier for the afternoon.
9:42 a.m.: As a
result of the change in time zone, the Badgers got two extra hours of sleep
before breakfast. The players really appreciated the hotel's buffet, especially "build-your-own-omelet" station.
Thursday, Nov. 8
7:35 p.m.: After nearly nine hours of traveling, the Badgers hit Marina del Ray for a much-needed dinner. The place of choice is C & O Trattoria, which is famous for its never-ending (and absolutely delicious) garlic rolls.
Despite falling in the first round of the 2012 Big Ten Tournament and witnessing its own bubble nearly burst following Illinois' upset win over Penn State in the tournament's semifinals, Wisconsin is still alive and kicking in its quest for its third berth in the NCAA Tournament in the last four years.
The official announcement of the 64-team field will not occur until Monday at 3:30 p.m. (CT), but that gives us two days to project and form our own opinions on the chances that Bucky will see at least one more game this season.
The RPI rankings are one of the biggest indicators of a potential NCAA Tournament team. A team's strength of schedule, combined with its overall record, cannot make or break a team's chances, but are huge in the grand scheme of things. In theory, teams in the RPI top-40 are in the comfort zone, while Nos. 41-64 are sweating as they keep an eye out for upsets come conference tournament time. There are exactly 24 AQ (automatic qualifier) bids in the tournament, which go to each conference's tournament champion.
When looking at the latest RPI rankings, which were released Oct. 29, Wisconsin was in the top-40, falling to No. 36 after its loss to Iowa on Oct. 27. The Badgers' 2012 schedule featured matches against six teams in the current RPI top-25, which included games against four of those seven teams on the road. UW also suffered one-goal losses to a pair of RPI top-five squads in UCLA (8/31) and Penn State (9/16).
According to former MLS star and U.S. National Team member turned women's soccer blogger, Chris Henderson, this past week's conference tournament did not hurt UW as much as we thought. Following multiple losses for various bubble teams and squads poised to steal AQ bids, it looks like Wisconsin's season is still intact -- but nothing is for certain until the NCAA Tournament selection committee says it is.
The selection committee will make its announcement on the field of 64 on Monday, Nov. 5, at 3:30 p.m. (CT). The selection show can be viewed live on NCAA.com.
As the Badger women's soccer team prepares for its second-consecutive berth in the Big Ten Women's Soccer Tourmament, follow the 2012 squad as Jeremy Wodajo chronicles the entire trip in his all-access blog.
Day 3: Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012
3:11 p.m. - The bus pulls into Madison, Wis. After a combined 14 hours and eight minutes of driving, including over 700 miles traveled, the Badgers arrive safely on the UW campus. Now ... the waiting game begins.
11:38 a.m. - Movie #2: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days....'nuff said.
11:02 a.m. - After perusing the highway signs for a nearby Panera, we finally landed on one in Fighting Illini country. Although considered enemy territory, Champaign, Ill., was the most reasonable stop for food as we were just over three hours and 30 minutes from home and needed something to hold us over before then.
We also didn't want to take the chance of not hitting any food stops within the next two hours -- so all in all, the 20-minute wait in line was well worth it.
9:19 a.m. - The first movie of the trip back -- Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part II. Seemed like a good watch considering I was only awake for the second half of the flick.
8:56 a.m. - Everyone is accounted for as we fill the bus and head back toward Madison. Aside from the short-lived rap battles that consumed all of five minutes of the trip off of the Indiana University campus, the exhausted and groggy faces of a few of the players also provided a source of entertainment for all.
Day 2: Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012
10:04 p.m. - A disappointing way to end the trip in Bloomington, Ind., but the Badgers, along with the entire staff, remain in high spirits as the NCAA Tournament selection show nears.
The players and coaches will spend one more night in the "castle-like" hotel before hitting the road for Madison at 9 a.m. Thursday morning. The team will continue to train as if in season and plan to congregate Monday afternoon as the fate of their season now lies in the decisions made by NCAA Tournament's selection committee.
7:13 p.m. - GAMETIME!!!!
7:01 p.m. - With plenty of time to rest, the Badgers load the bus and head to Armstrong Stadium. With music blasting toward the back of the bus, the mood seemed confident yet humble, as the players realize they potentially have one more chance to put it all on the line.
2:39 p.m. - After a short break and the opportunity to head back to the room to catch up on their z's, the Badgers rounded up for lunch. Following a brief walk, the group hit the jackpot just two blocks from the hotel, as we found Noodles & Co., and Potbelly Sandwich Shop right next to one another, nestled in between two clothing stores.
The late lunch allowed each group to get in and out with just enough time to head back to the hotel and nap before the 5:55 p.m. team meeting.
12:11 p.m. - After taking a walk down the winding hallway that led to the video room -- which included a stop at the mini-graveyard just outside of the hotel -- the team spent the noon hour watching film.
11:09 a.m. - The Badgers pile onto the bus to head to ground zero -- also known as Armstrong Stadium. Before sitting down to briefly watch the No. 4 Minnesota Gophers take on the No. 5 Fighting Illini, the team used an auxiliary field to conduct a quick walk-through in preparation for their quarterfinal match-up.
10:48 a.m. - We are reminded that it is Halloween after walking back from breakfast and seeing nearly every student dressed in everything from cat costumes (whiskers and all) to the biggest human pumpkin I have ever seen.
9:58 a.m. - The 7:30 p.m. match time allowed the team a little extra time to sleep in this morning. Despite the later wake-up call, the team bus driver still needed his beauty sleep so the team explored the campus by foot to find breakfast.
The majority of the Badgers decided on a small bagel shop known as Bloomington Bagel Company (Go figure!), that is well-known for its "east coast" bagels. After a short wait in line, it seemed as though many of the players, and nearly everyone that was present at the shop, decided on some combination of egg, cheese and bacon/sausage/ham, inside of a plain, cinnamon or asiago cheese bagel.
Day 1: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012
10:41 p.m. - The bus rolls into Bloomington, Ind. UW head coach Paula Wilkins gives the team a short speech regarding the next day's itinerary before excusing them to gather their bags and hit the sack for the night. As we pile onto the 7 x 5 foot elevators, the players stare in awe of the "castle-like" structure of the team hotel, which is nestled in the heart of campus.
Two movies, one dinner stop and six-and-a-half hours of sitting have us all tired and ready for what tomorrow brings -- the 2012 Big Ten Tourney and a potential NCAA Tournament bid.
9:16 p.m. - The rain continues to fall as the second movie draws to a close. The noise on the bus is faint and it seems as though many of the players are either reading up for next week's midterms....or sleeping -- my guess would be the latter.
8:45 p.m. - A quick pit stop to one of the city's nearby gas stations results in a break from the chick flick and a chance for all to stretch their legs before hitting the home stretch of the road trip.
6:12 p.m. - The second installment of the movie portion of the trip began just after the six o'clock hour, as the consensus choice was No
Strings Attached. The light drizzle that set in just as the bus entered the state of Indiana did not put a damper on the Ashton Kutcher-lovers who were seeing the movie for the umpteenth time, but still laughed at every comical scene.
4:33 p.m. - Just under an hour after crossing the Illinois border, the team makes the first stop of the trip at Sweet Tomatoes. Although the spot is known for its buffet-style menu of sandwiches, salads and soups, the pizza and ice cream stations seemed to garner the most attention.
2:07 p.m. - It did not take long before the first movie request was made. Regardless of the lack of interest from assistant head coach Tim Rosenfeld, who was manning the DVD player, the renowned trilogy and award-winning novel, The Hunger Games, was the first of two flicks played on the winding drive to Hoosierville.
1:52 p.m. - Following the team's noon practice, all 29 members of the Badgers' travel party boarded the Badger Bus and geared up for the 6.5-hour road trip to Bloomington, Ind., for the 2012 Big Ten Women's Soccer Tournament.
Silence of the Lam-Feist
Senior Monica Lam-Feist has tallied a career-high 13 points in 2012, including a pair of scores in UW's 4-2 win over Purdue on Friday, Oct. 19, posting her first multi-goal match of the season. Lam-Feist's quiet demeanor is off-set by her aggressive on-field approach to defending, as well as scoring points. This season, the senior is leading the Badgers in shots (52) and is second in total goals (6).Goal-oriented
The Badgers are tallying goals at a rapid pace this season. After 18 matches, Wisconsin has eclipsed its entire goal total from 2011. Behind a trio of four-goal outings and a five-goal performance against South Dakota State, the Badgers have 37 goals to date, 11 more than their total output all of last season, with one regular season match to go.
Wisconsin's offensive improvement is largely due to its aggressiveness on the front line. UW is outshooting its opponents 251-206 and are outscoring foes 37-23.
The Ontario native came to UW as part of head coach Paula Wilkins' highly-touted freshmen bunch and has shined since earning the starting nod early on during the 2012 pre-season. McNicoll is one of just four freshmen to start for the Badgers, and has garnered seen action in nearly every minute of all 14 contests this season, posting a goal in Monday night's 2-0 win over Green Bay.
McNicoll is third among all Badgers in points (10) and has shown flashes of experience and grit only seen in someone who has redshirted or is nearing the end of their four-year career.
The freshman has shown aggressiveness, ranking second on UW in shots (26) but has also displayed her unselfishness, notching only 10 shots on goal and tallying four assists this season.
Genevieve Richard began the season out of the running for the starting GK position at UW. Richard was selected to join the Canadian National Team at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in late August, missing most of preseason camp.
Richard returned to Madison to find the Badgers sitting in the top-25 and riding a five-game home win streak. Following a 1-2-0 stretch, the junior was inserted into the starting GK role, making her first in-game appearance on the road against Ohio State.
The Quebec native did not disappoint, tallying six saves and posting UW's first road shutout of 2012.