Aug. 5, 2013
BY JEREMY WODAJO
MADISON, Wis. -- With the first official practice less than a day away, anticipation for the 2013 season is at an all-time high.
The Badgers hit the field Tuesday morning for fitness testing and will endure two practices a day for the next week month leading up to the opener against Connecticut. As the players attempt to acclimate themselves among coaches and teammates, let's take a look at the things to keep an eye out for this season as the Badgers look to make their 18th appearance in the NCAA tournament in program history.
Impact of 2013 class: Wisconsin welcomes its seven-player class in the fall, a group that may be one of the best in Badgers history. Wilkins, who coached nine all-americans and one M.A.C. Hermann Trophy winner while at Penn State, classifies this group as one of the top-5 classes she has ever recruited in 12 years of coaching. With that being said, there is a bit of pressure that may be placed on these newcomers.
As many as four of the seven freshmen will be asked to contribute the minute they step on campus, with Beavercreek, Ohio, native Micaela Powers highlighting the flashy group. Powers, who earned Ohio's Player of the Year award in 2013, is regarded as a talented athlete in the air and will give UW a much-needed physical presence in the midfield. Fellow freshman Rose Lavelle will also turn some heads with her athletic abilities, while her technical skill is off the charts for a first-year college player.
There is no timetable handed to coaches that will inform them of how long it will take for a freshmen to adapt to the collegiate game and because these seven student-athletes scream athleticism, big-game experience and overall talent, it seems that Wisconsin's success in 2013 will depend heavily on the their ability to handle the pressures that come with earning playing time early on.
Development of McKenna Meuer: The easy answer to the question, who will guide the Badgers in 2013, is Cara Walls who has led the team in points and goals in each of her first two seasons in cardinal and white. Behind the scenes, sophomore McKenna Meuer is quietly emerging as one of the most consistent players for Wilkins and Co., and also one of the team's unsung leaders.
Meuer entered last season as an expected contributor but her technical skill and high IQ quickly ascended her to the top of the totem pole. The Madison Memorial product started 19 of UW's 20 games in large part because of the things she did that were not seen in the final stats. Meuer immediately bought into the way Wilkins and associate head coach Tim Rosenfeld liked things done and saw her confidence rise as the season progressed.
In 2013, Meuer will be asked to provide the same consistent play as she will alternate from midfielder to defender, but her expectations as a leader will be increased. If Meuer is able to remain the consistent player she was in 2012, while providing the type of guidance that can give the freshmen the confidence they need to feel comfortable early on in the preseason, UW will have the looks of a well-oiled machine with Meuer riding shotgun.
Depth: The Badgers have the type of depth that Wilkins has yet to see during her time in Madison. Although all in contention won't earn consistent playing time in 2013, the success UW will see this season will have a lot to do with how deep and competitive the Badgers are in matches and among one another during training.
The Badgers' roster may be bottom heavy, but the competition is healthy and will lead to increased production in Wilkins' eyes and it is easy to see why.
After fielding similar teams with similar depth and talent at Penn State, Wilkins has become accustomed to the great improvements her squads have seen throughout the course of a season. As a result of the constant pressure to perform, the intensity in training will pick up and a competitive atmosphere will emerge. This will foster a cut throat environment for this young team to flourish in and as they become comfortable playing with the added pressure of knowing someone is right behind you ready to pounce on your first false move, the mindset and focus becomes habitual and success becomes the norm.
Of course, all of this depends on how well the youthful team develops in the early stages of training.