The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (13-2-2 overall, 9-0-1 B1G) were in Evanston, Ill. on Sunday to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (5-10-3 overall, 3-6-2 B1G) in an important match for the Badgers outright conference title hopes.
The Badgers had already clinched a share of the B1G title on Thursday by beating Illinois 1-0, courtesy a Dani Rhodes goal (her tenth of the season) in the 41st minute, but they didn’t want to share it with anyone and went into the game on Sunday with that mindset.
Rhodes scored the first goal of the game in the 15th minute for the Badgers, and even though NU equalized seven minutes later, junior Claire Shea scored her first collegiate goal just before halftime which ended up being the game, and title, winning goal. It was, as the kids say, a banger.
Freshman Jenna Kiraly added an insurance goal in the 74th minute and the celebration could begin for Wisconsin. Per the UW’s press release, the Badgers earned their third conference championship and second outright crown, having last won the title on their own in 1994 (the tournament winner was named Big Ten Champion from 1994-96) before securing a share of the 2015 championship.
The victory gives the Badgers 28 points in conference play this year, three more than Michigan and Rutgers, with Wisconsin still having one more contest to play at 3 p.m. (CT) Wednesday when it welcomes Ohio State to Madison for a game rescheduled from Sept. 27 due to lightning.
Head coach Paul Wilkins was ecstatic after the win: “This is really exciting for the players. It started back in the spring. This was a goal they wanted to have and I think each of them did their role to help us achieve this. I think it completely has been a group effort, from training to games to all parts. The aspect of the culture of the team I think helped us create this. We’re by far not done.”
Team captain Payton Wesley had this to say after the game: “There’s no better feeling than sharing a moment like that with the people you go through everything with. Our preparation and mentality has gotten us to this point and we’re far from being done. I’m so proud of every person on this team and I’m lucky to be a part of a program like this!”
Per the Big Ten’s press release on the game, the Badgers still have more to play for: the Big Ten Tournament will kick off Nov. 3 with quarterfinal games on the campuses of the top four seeds. UW will host a Big Ten quarterfinal game on Sunday at McClimon and kickoff for that contest will be announced later this week.
The semifinals and championship game will be played Nov. 8 & 10 at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J., and all three games will be televised live on BTN.