Head coach Paula Wilkins will have no shortage of options when it comes to her midfielders in the 2011 season.
At least eight different players can be relied upon, she explained, including 2010 second-team All-Big Ten honorees Erin Jacobsen and Alev Kelter.
The two excel in different facets of the game. Jacobsen tallied two assists on the year and added standout defense from the midfield position, while Kelter was third on the squad with three goals and eight points.
"Erin has always been a great defender at center-mid for us," Wilkins explained. "She is one of the reasons why we've been successful defensively. She stops a lot of the problems before they even start and has been very good.
"Alev is a physical force in the midfield. She's a returning second-team All-Regional and All-Big Ten player and will be looked upon to score some goals with her head, which is what she's really good at, and be a dominant force in the midfield."
Wilkins is looking at Monica Lam-Feist and Lauren Cochlin to pick up where they left off last season. Lam-Feist scored both goals in the Badgers' season-ending loss to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished third on the team with three goals and was fourth with seven points. Cochlin added a goal and assist to finish the year with three points and will look to use her speed in 2011.
"Monica has really good vision and is a good distributor of the ball in the midfield," Wilkins said. "She's able to connect a lot of parts and is dangerous in the front half of the field. Scoring the last two goals of the season against Marquette, she's coming on stronger and stronger offensively.
"At the very end of the season last year Lauren really came on strong and she had a great summer preparing. Her speed is unmatched on the team and a lot in the Big Ten. She'll be looked upon to create some problems getting behind people."
Leigh Williams and Lindsey Hamann are two midfielders who are looking to come back from ailments and Wilkins believes both will be factors.
"Leigh Williams, after getting mononucleosis and not being able to play in the NCAAs against Marquette, I think is going to come back with a vengeance her senior year," Wilkins said. "She adds a scrappy mentality that we need out there, but she's also a great attacking threat and has a great work rate.
"Lindsey Hamann has been battling injuries the last few years but we're expecting her to play a role in the midfield. She brings a good combining ability just like Julia [Roddar] and she'll be experienced in that way."
A pair of freshmen will also be looked upon to bolster the midfield play in Julia Roddar and Krissy Many. Roddar becomes the first Badger to hail from Sweden after she saw time with the Swedish National Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 teams. Many helped Naperville Central in Illinois to three conference and regional titles.
"Julia brings some international experience with the Swedish national team," Wilkins said. "She's a very good technical player who can connect passes and will create good combination play in the front half of the field. She has a good engine and good work rate and I'm excited to see her.
"Krissy Many is just a really good physical presence in terms of what she can do. She's very good in the air, almost equal to Alev, and I think that element will be something we need."
With proven commodities, players looking to build on late season success, players looking to bounce back from injuries and players looking to make a name for themselves, things are looking bright for the midfielders in 2011.
The Badgers return the core of their defensive unit that was the stingiest in all of the Big Ten last season.
For the season, the Badgers led the league by yielding just 11 goals overall and 0.52 goals per game. The squad also posted 12 shutouts on the year to tie for the conference lead.
In addition, including overtime periods, the Badgers did not give up a goal in span that lasted nearly 930 minutes last season from Sept. 5 to Oct. 15. This snapped the previous record set by the 1985 team for most minutes without allowing a goal.
Head coach Paula Wilkins is relying on veteran leadership in 2011 to produce similar results, starting with senior Meghan Flannery, who was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.
"We have Meghan Flannery returning who is an All-Big Ten player and will anchor the back," Wilkins said. "She's been great in the transition from midfielder to outside-back to center-back. She's a good leader and has good field vision."
Also part of the defensive unit are juniors Lindsey Johnson and Joana Bielefeld and sophomore Catie Sessions. Johnson, who was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team in 2009, started all 20 games a year ago, while Bielefeld played in 14 contests after transferring in from Ohio University. Sessions played in 19 games and, like Johnson, earned a spot on the All-Freshman squad.
"Lindsey Johnson and Catie Sessions were both All-Big Ten freshmen at one point. They're great attacking defenders with great mentality to get forward," Wilkins added. "They'll be generating a lot of our offense there.
"Joana Bielefeld has had experience there. She'll play essentially in the back or outside wide. She had great experience in the spring coming from Ohio University."
A pair of youngsters also could play prominently in the defense, including a member of the Badgers' freshman class.
"Lauren Reid is a young freshman who has come in and shown promise," Wilkins said. "Being able to play off the left side, she's very technical and has a really good engine. I think she's going to be another good attacking back in the style that we like to play with.
"Ali Heller, who is coming back slowly from injury, will probably play a role in one of those spots as the season wears on. We're hoping to get her back in the mix very quickly."
With these pieces in place, the defensive unit looks to be a definite strength going into the new season.
In the first installment of a four-part series previewing the Wisconsin women's soccer team's roster, head coach Paula Wilkins breaks down the Badgers' goalkeepers.
Wisconsin returns all four goalkeepers from last season's roster that put forth one of the finest defensive seasons in school history.
The Badgers allowed only 11 goals in 20 games which is the fewest for the program since women's soccer became a sport in the Big Ten Conference in 1994. The team was even better in conference play, yielding just three goals to establish another program best.
From Sept. 10-Oct. 10, the Badgers held nine straight opponents without a goal, matching the 1985 squad for the longest shutout streak in school history.
Then a junior, Michele Dalton posted eight shutouts in the nine-game stretch and finished the year with 11 clean sheets, the fourth-best number in school history and the most since 1989. Dalton was named second-team All-Big Ten for the season and head coach Paula Wilkins is counting on her again in 2011.
"Obviously [Michele] had a great season last year and her return will give us some stability and some experience in there," Wilkins said. "She'll be looked upon again to manage the game well and we'll need her to make some big saves to keep us in the game like she did last year."
Joining Dalton are fellow senior Lauren Gunderson, junior Olivia Hoff and sophomore Genevieve Richard.
Gunderson started both games she played in last year, including a clean sheet against South Dakota State on Sept. 10.
Neither Hoff nor Richard has seen time in net for the Badgers, but have gained valuable experience throughout their careers.
Hoff won two state championships with FC Milwaukee in 2007 and 2009 and Richard gained experience on the international level representing Canada at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in New Zealand in 2010.
"Genevieve Richard comes with great experience playing in the U-17 World Cup which obviously makes the environment for the starting position competitive," Wilkins said. "Olivia Hoff has gotten better and better every spring, while Lauren Gunderson brings great experience and has gotten opportunities in the past.
"I think it's one of the most experienced goalkeeping crews that we've had in my five years here."
In their final weekend before reporting to training camp for the University of Wisconsin women's soccer team's 2011 season, three incoming freshmen led their squad to a national title at the US Youth National Championships.
Cara Walls, Olivia Tehan and Carly Vogel capped off their summers by lifting FC Milwaukee to the U18 title, the first national championship for a team from Wisconsin, boys or girls.
After dropping the first game of the preliminary round to Colorado Rush Nike, Walls' goal in the 76th minute lifted her team to a 1-0 victory over Team Boca (Fla.).
Entering the final game of preliminary play, FC Milwaukee was tied with FC Stars of Massachusetts at 1-1-0 and each had a goal differential of zero. A win was needed to reach the finals and again Wells came through in the clutch. Her goal in the 13th minute would be all her squad would need as it cruised to a 3-0 win and a rematch against Colorado Rush Nike.
Walls was once again the star in the title game. After 90 minutes of play resulted in a 1-1 tie, the Wauwatosa, Wis., native scored in both the 95th and 96th minutes to lead FC Milwaukee to a 4-2 win. Her four goals in the tournament led all scorers.
Wisconsin sophomore Catie Sessions also reached the national championships with her team, Woodbury Inferno. Competing in the U19 division, Sessions and the Inferno went 1-2 in preliminary play and failed to reach the finals.
Watching Ali Krieger line up the penalty kick that could seal Team USA's improbable win over Brazil on Sunday, UW women's soccer coach Paula Wilkins was convinced that Krieger was ready for the moment.
Wilkins, after all, had coached Krieger at Penn State.
"I was confident,'' Wilkins said, "because I know Ali is always confident.''
When Krieger's kick landed in the netting, it capped one of the most dramatic comebacks in U.S. soccer history as the Americans overcame controversy and adversity to advance in the World Cup.
"It showed their resiliency,'' Wilkins said.
Despite playing shorthanded after losing Rachel Buehler to a red card, Team USA persevered and tied the match on Abby Wambach's header in the 122nd minute of the marathon quarterfinal.
"When the ball was hit, I thought it was a little desperate with what they were trying to do,'' Wilkins said of Megan Rapinoe's crossing pass from the left wing that Wambach converted in the box.
"But it was spot-on with what they needed.''
Wilkins watched the final minutes and penalty kicks Sunday with a bunch of young players, ages 12-17, who were attending the Girls Soccer Academy on the UW campus.
"You should have heard the roar,'' Wilkins said of their spontaneous reaction to the spellbinding finish. "The way it happened might create more excitement for women's soccer.''
Team USA will advance to the semifinals to play France.
"The challenging part right now -- with how it ended and the emotion running so high -- is getting grounded again,'' she said. "It was fantastic but they need to get their legs back under them.''
Wilkins has all the confidence in the world that Team USA coach Pia Sundhage will have her players focused for their next challenge. "Pia will prepare them to do that,'' she said.
Preparation is at the core of Krieger's game, too, Wilkins acknowledged.
"She was one of the mainstays of our Penn State program,'' she said of Krieger, a two-time All-American with the Nittany Lions. "When you put in all that work you know it's going to pay off.''
Krieger's resiliency mirrors that of her teammates; even more so, in fact.
"She has an amazing story,'' Wilkins allowed.
Krieger's junior season at Penn State ended short of the NCAA tournament when she broke her leg during practice. A metal plate was inserted to stabilize the injury.
A few months later, she was battling for her life; the result of blood clots that had developed in her lungs and caused a pulmonary embolism. Immediate recognition and treatment saved her.
Although the recovery process sidelined her for six months, Krieger returned to play her senior year for Wilkins. The Nittany Lions won four straight Big Ten championships during Krieger's career.
Wilkins admitted to experiencing some tenseness while Krieger was getting ready for that PK against Brazil. "It's like any mother would feel -- you're a little anxious for them,'' she said.
But that anxiety soon morphed into exhilaration. "As a team,'' Wilkins said, "they showed their emotional courage to get through it and that has to build their confidence.''
This past week has featured a number of incoming Badgers reaching the biggest stage in US youth soccer. Current Badger defender Catie Sessions along with incoming freshmen Cara Walls, Olivia Tehan and Carly Vogel have seen their respective teams advance to the US Youth National Championship Series.
After defeating Elm Grove Premier 6-0 in the Wisconsin State Cup Championship game, the FC Milwaukee U-18 Blue, featuring Walls, Tehan and Vogel, found themselves en route to the Midwest Region II Tournament held at the US Youth Sports Complex in Appleton, Wis.
Only 926 out of the over 10,000 youth teams across the nation advance to this level by winning their respective age group in a state cup championship. The regional championships consist of four pool groups divided within a given age. Each pool features four teams.
After three days of play, the U-18 Blue found themselves atop Pool B with six points and a 2-1-0 record. Defeating the KCFC Intensity, 2-1, in the semifinals put them one step closer to a Region II Championship title. In the championship game FC Milwaukee emerged with a 3-1 victory and a regional championship. This honor will take them west to the National Championship Series held in Phoenix, Ariz., July 27-31. The U-18 Blue will be one of only 60 teams to reach this competitive level of play.
Also attending the National Championship Series is current Badger defender Catie Sessions. Competing at the U-19 age level, Session's Minnesota Inferno advanced through pool play with an undefeated record and a perfect nine points. By defeating Toro Elite in the semifinals, 1-0, the Inferno secured their spot in the Region II Championship match. A 2-0 win over Mallorca ensured their trip to the national championships where only 12 teams will be crowned a victor.
Fellow incoming freshman Nikki Greenhalgh has also been busy helping her high school, Novi, win its second straight Michigan High School Athletic Association State Championship. After defeating Grosse Pointe South 2-1 in the semifinal match by contributing both a goal and an assist, Greenhalgh scored the lone goal in the state championship game. Her tally in the 18th minute was all Novi needed to defeat Troy and give her school its fifth championship in the last seven years. Greenhalgh, a team captain, was named to the all-state Dream Team for her contributions this season.
The US Youth Soccer National Championship Series provides more than 10,000 teams from US Youth Soccer's 55 State Associations the opportunity to showcase their abilities against the best in the nation while emphasizing teamwork, discipline and fair play. The yearlong competition begins with over 185,000 players in the US Youth Soccer State Championships. These champions and selected wildcard teams, through US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues, advance to compete in one of four the US Youth Soccer Regional Championships. Champions (U-14 through U-19) from each regional event advance to the National Championships.
There are just 33 days left until the Wisconsin women's soccer team reports for preseason training camp, but many members have kept busy playing in leagues all over North America this summer. At roughly the halfway point of the season, UWBadgers.com takes a look at the summer league teams and performances. Several players have been competing both with and against each other in the Women's Premier Soccer League. This highly-competitive league consists of both current and former collegiate players, as well as former professional players.
Three Badgers have stayed local and are playing with the Madison 56ers. Lauren Cochlin, Michele Dalton and Derya Kelter train regularly with the team, which is currently sitting in second place in the Midwest-North division with seven points and a 2-2-1 record.
Cochlin is tied for second on the team with two goals and four points, while Dalton has appeared in all five games and Kelter has played in four.
The FC Milwaukee Nationals, which sit six points ahead of the second place 56ers with a 4-1-1 record, feature four current Badgers: Joana Bielefeld, Lindsey Hamann, Lindsey Johnson and Laurie Nosbusch. Last summer, the Nationals won their division and advanced to reach the Final Four.
Nosbusch boasts a team-leading four goals and eight points while playing in all six games, while Bielefeld is tied for the team lead with one assist in five games. Johnson has seen action in five games and Hamann has appeared in three contests.
Also playing in the Midwest-North Division, fellow Badger Ali Heller trains with Eclipse Select in Chicago. The team currently sits in sixth place with four points at 1-1-1 but has played fewer games than most other teams. Heller, a defender, has appeared in all three games.
Monica Lam-Feist finds herself back in British Columbia for the summer, playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference of the W-League. The Whitecaps are well situated in first place in their division with 23 points and a 7-1-2 record. Lam-Feist has played in six of the team's 10 games, registering three shots.
Badgers Erin Jacobsen and Alev Kelter are also sharing the field together on the Naperville Soccer Association U-23 team in the Chicago area. Nicole La Petina isn't too far away, as she trains at home with Ela Elite in northern Illinois.
Catie Sessions is also spending the summer at home in Minnesota playing for the Woodbury Inferno, which has advanced to the U-19 regional championship game in Appleton, Wis. Sessions also spent a week in Chula Vista, Calif., training with the U-20 National Team.
The women's soccer team returns to Madison on Aug. 2 in preparation for its regular season opener against defending national champion Notre Dame on Aug. 19 in South Bend, Ind.