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WSCR_110711_Wilkins_Paula.jpgWatching 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.''

Incoming freshmen at the top of their game

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.

Badgers sharpening skills with summer soccer

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.

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