Young Wisconsin squad, head coach Paula Wilkins have high expectations for 2009

first_imgIf the Badgers’ schedule is any indication, the Wisconsin women’s soccer team expects big things in the 2009 season.Wisconsin opened its season Aug. 21 against third-ranked and 2008 NCAA runner-up Notre Dame. Despite a 3-0 loss, the Badgers played well early, holding the Fighting Irish scoreless through the first half of play.“Facing Notre Dame was a great way to be introduced to the season,” head coach Paula Wilkins said. “Holding them until halftime and then giving up three goals that all could have been changed in different ways. … They say defense wins championships, so we want to keep building on that.”The Badgers finish out their nonconference slate over the next three weeks with six games against Northern Illinois, Tennessee, North Dakota State, DePaul, No. 22 Santa Clara and 2008 College Cup participant No. 2 Stanford. Six of UW’s opponents were ranked in the NSCAA preseason top 25.And with the lack of a postseason Big Ten Tournament this season, the Badgers’ have just two main goals.“I’m hoping we get in the top half of the Big Ten, and I hope we earn an NCAA berth,” junior defender Taryn Francel said. “That is a huge goal of ours and, if we make it, that would be amazing.”Following the season-opening loss at Notre Dame, Wisconsin has bounced back with a pair of strong double overtime performances at home with a 0-0 tie against UW-Milwaukee on Aug. 24 and a 1-0 victory Friday night over UW-Green Bay.Wisconsin’s defense was impressive in both games, and it is something that appears to be one of the Badgers’ strongest points this season. UW has more experience defensively than anywhere else on the field with senior Whitney Owusu and juniors Birdie Leibham and Francel leading the way.Behind those three will be a sophomore goaltender, either Michelle Dalton, who started against Notre Dame and UW-Milwaukee, or Lauren Gunderson, who got the start against UW-Green Bay.“Lauren’s been training very well and so has Michelle, so it’s going to be a very good competition,” Wilkins said. “I am very confident with both of them. I think both of them have established themselves as goalkeepers that the team trusts. They communicate well, they have a good presence and they both have done well to get shutouts.”Offensively, the Badgers return 2008 team MVP and leading scorer Laurie Nosbusch as well as fellow Big Ten All-Freshman Team honoree Erin Jacobsen, who combined to tally 11 goals and 11 assists for 33 points last season.However, Nosbusch will need to step into a bigger leadership role this season with the departure of 2008 co-captain Taylor Walsh. With the way she carries herself both on and off the field, Nosbusch appears ready to take on such a position despite being in just her second season.“I feel like after my freshman year, I’ve had a lot of experiences that kind of gave me some insight into the team,” Nosbusch said. “I learned a lot from other leaders on the team, and I think that on the field I can help the team get better. If I can get a goal and make them believe in ourselves, then it’s going to be great.”Nosbusch is not the only young player set to take a major role for the team in 2009. So far, the Badgers have started at least three freshmen in each game alongside several sophomores.Among the freshmen to have started are Alev Kelter, Monica Lam-Feist, Paige Adams and Lindsey Johnson. And with 13 freshman and nine sophomores to just six juniors and two seniors, the Badgers will need their underclassmen to contribute to be successful.“I expect them to keep getting better,” Wilkins said. “Being put into college soccer this fast is always a difficult thing, but I just expect them to get better each practice and each game and learn. What’s amazing is they sometimes actually get better during the game.”Wisconsin will need them to get better before it begins Big Ten play Sept. 25 against the Purdue Boilermakers if the Badgers expect to finish in the top half of the conference. The Big Ten features three teams in the top 25: No. 12 Penn State, No. 17 Illinois and No. 19 Minnesota.The Badgers are fortunate to play two of the three at home — Minnesota on Oct. 1 and Penn State on Oct. 18 –while having to travel to Champaign to face the Fighting Illini on Oct. 11.And while Wisconsin will face a tough opponent in Stanford on Sept. 20, the games against the Gophers, Nittany Lions and Fighting Illini will be the true tests of whether the Badgers are going to finish seventh — where they were picked to finish in the preseason coaches’ poll — or even higher in the conference.Nonetheless, the Badgers are confident in their ability to improve from a 9-9-1 record last season.“I have high expectations for the team, much higher than last year,” Francel said. “I expect to have a winning record. We just need to work on finishing, and I think I see a bright season. I think we have more depth than last year, which will help us tremendously.”last_img

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