Aug. 27, 2010
|Fourth-year head coach Paula Wilkins' aggressive scheduling has already paid off for the Badgers
MADISON, Wis. -- Paula Wilkins didn’t coin the phrase, but give her credit for recognizing the value in the idea behind it.
“To be the best, you have to play the best,” Wilkins said Friday after her 20th-ranked Wisconsin women’s soccer team dropped a hard-fought 1-0 decision to No. 3 UCLA in the Badgers’ season-opener.
The words may have become cliché, but the philosophy clearly resonates within the fourth-year head coach’s program. Wilkins and her staff don’t shy away from traditional powerhouses when they schedule, so it should come as no surprise to see her team take a similar tact on the field.
A defensive lapse that allowed UCLA’s Jenna Richmond to punch home the game-winning goal off a restart in the 56th minute clearly knocked the wind out of the Badgers’ sails, but the resilient group battled back late.
That meant scrapping together a series of hard-fought possessions that left the outcome anything but a certainty until the final horn sounded.
“We did a little bit better, we rushed some things, but we got numbers forward and worked up the field,” Wilkins said of the late surge. “You have to go for it.
“We’re not going for a 1-0 loss, we want to try and win the game or tie the game.”
On style points, it was largely the Badgers’ night. The scoreboard told a different story.
Still, just because the Badgers failed to get a result Friday doesn’t mean the 90 minutes they invested won’t pay dividends down the road. That’s a subplot behind the Badgers’ willingness to take on some of the nation’s top programs.
Recent history backs up the idea.
Just as they did Friday, Wilkins’ Badgers opened the 2009 season against the nation’s No. 3-ranked team. Notre Dame backed up its ranking with a 3-0 win in which they peppered the Badgers with 20 shots.
Flash forward to Friday and a defensive performance by UW that allowed one of the nation’s top attacks just four shots-on-goal. It’s little solace to a team that largely played well enough to win, but it’s also another sign of the program’s continued progression.
“I think most of the kids will say they’re disappointed because of the limited number of shots we gave up,” Wilkins said. “Last year we opened up with Notre Dame with basically that same group of young kids on the field and we gave up (20) shots.”
It’s progress, and it’s progress the Badgers made with regular starters Laurie Nosbusch and Paige Adams sidelined due to injury. Of the 16 players Wilkins used Friday, nine were underclassmen. That includes six of the Badgers’ starting 11.
True freshman Kodee Williams made an outstanding 1-on-3 run late the match to apply pressure to UCLA’s defense, only to get bowled over without being awarded a free kick.
Sophomore Lindsey Johnson was in the middle of all the Badgers’ best scoring chances, with her flip-throws from the sideline setting up chances for sophomore Alev Kelter -- on a near-post header -- in the 10th minute and for sophomore Monica Lam-Feist -- on a point-blank blast at the keeper -- in the 28th.
“The best thing is that we have some depth,” Wilkins said. “A number of kids that are playing have experience from last year playing in big games.”
As the Badgers proved a year ago -- when they went from being outclassed in a 6-0 loss to No. 3 Stanford to a Sweet 16 berth in a matter of weeks -- a challenging schedule has its rewards for a young roster.
“We found last year, from playing Stanford, that it really showed our players where they need to be and helped us in our NCAA game against (Boston College),” Wilkins said.
It’s a formula that’s worked before and that Wilkins believes will pay off again in 2010.
“You start off with a team like UCLA and everything the rest of the season is only going to be the same or easier,” she said. “We want to make sure our standards are really high and that we can play with these teams this year and in the years to come.
“We try to up the ante on the team, and I’m excited for where they are.”
UW Athletic Communications