Sept. 14, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- Paula Wilkins has seen it all in 11 years of coaching, but in her five years at Wisconsin, there have not been many teams that have impressed her as much as the 2012 Badgers. After failing to make the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in three years, Wilkins' and the Badgers are on the brink of their first 6-1-0 start since 2004, dominating opponents with a talented front line and a youthful sense of spirit from the newcomers. After opening its season by knocking off perennial-power Notre Dame, 1-0, for the first win over the BIG EAST foe since 1989, Wisconsin went on to shut out its next two opponents, racking up five and four goal outings, in UW's next two wins, respectively.
"The biggest thing I'm happy about is that the players are committed to each other,'' Wilkins said. "I'm really excited about the dynamic they've created -- they really have a strong commitment to defending and attacking together and that mentality is carrying through a lot of games.''
UW's three-straight clean sheets would not have been possible without the impressive performances of senior GK Lauren Gunderson. After being tabbed as the replacement for 2011 All-Big Ten Goalie, Michele Dalton, Gunderson made it clear early on that there would be no drop off, blanking Notre Dame and posting seven saves against the 2010 NCAA Champions.
Wilkins, who has coined this group as one of the best teams she's coached in terms of mental toughness, has found a surprise dark horse in the freshmen class. Freshmen Kinley McNicoll and McKenna Meuer are just two of the four starting newcomers who have made an immediate impact in areas where the Badgers were lacking in depth and support last season.
"(The freshmen) all work really hard and bring a lot of energy," 2011 All-Big Ten Freshmen Team honoree Cara Walls said. "Kinley is more of an attacker, so that's really different because we don't have too many players like her. McKenna just works really hard and always seems to come away with the ball.
"It's refreshing to have freshmen on the team stepping up like that."
Walls know all about providing an immediate impact after leading the Badgers in points (19) and goals (9) a season ago as a freshman. The Wauwatosa native is complimented by seniors Monica Lam-Feist, Lindsey Johnson and Paige Adams, while Erin Jacobsen and Joana Bielefeld anchor a midfield that is poised to be one of the Big Ten's best in 2012.
UW Athletic Communications