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Wisconsin’s place in Women’s Soccer

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This one turns out to be a shaggy dog story.

Washington Spirit v Portland Thorns FC

In our first look at Wisconsin’s place in the college sports landscape, we learned that the Badgers are a consistent Big 10 player in indoor track and field, with a handful of national podium appearances in their long history. Next up, women’s soccer.

When Do We Begin?

When I pulled together my research for the first article, I cribbed heavily from the “history of this sport” that each school has, as well as the Big 10’s. That info isn’t nearly as useful in this sport. There’s an argument that passing Title IX helped the US dominate the sport on the international stage. Title IX was passed in 1972. Here’s where I’m going with this,

First Women’s Soccer Season, Big 10 Teams

Team First Year
Team First Year
Wisconsin 1981
Rutgers 1984
Michigan State 1986
Maryland 1987
Minnesota 1993
Indiana 1993
Ohio State 1993
Penn State 1994
Michigan 1994
Northwestern 1994
Nebraska 1994
Illinois 1997
Purdue 1998

Wisconsin started playing women’s soccer before any other Big 10 team. Conference play didn’t exist until 1994. Between 1981 and 1988, the Badgers schedule was cobbled together against local colleges with club teams along with other varsity squads. There’s a lot to digest in these years.

A Brief Listing of What We Need To Digest In Non-Conference Existence

  1. In the inaugural season, the Badgers played home-and-homes against UW-Milwaukee, Marquette, Beloit and Missouri-St. Louis. There would be three more seasons where Wisconsin played four teams twice in this span.
  2. You could guess a lot of the teams the Badgers played the most in this stretch based on geography: UW-Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Mary’s (Minnesota), Marquette, Dayton, Minnesota, SIU-Edwardsville. (Well, geography and some really good knowledge of the U of I system.) The outlier? Colorado College, played 11 times in that span, three times in the NCAA tournament.
  3. How much of an outlier is Colorado College? Wisconsin lost to the Tigers 2-1 in 1989 in Ithaca, New York. Wisconsin also lost 2-1 to the UMass Minutemen the next day. There are two colleges in Ithaca, Ithaca College and Cornell. As of 2018, the Ithaca airport has four gates. I have flow into and out of this airport. Have you ever deplaned onto the tarmac? Delta’s route from Detroit to Ithaca gives you this luxury. Somehow, in that tiny of a location, the Badgers avoided playing either college there. I can confirm UMass beat Cornell that weekend 2-0, but can only assume CC played the Ivy League’s Big Red the other day.
  4. Cumulative stats against Minnesota, St. Mary’s (Minn), Dayton, Michigan State, Marquette, and SIU-Edwardsville: 203 goals scored, 21 against. 50 wins, no losses, no ties.
  5. A brief listing of schools I have never heard of before: Hartford, Missouri-Rolla, Gustavus Adolphus, Hartwick, Wheaton, Denison, Metropolitan State, Quincy and Cortland State. I looked, Gustavus Adolphus is in St. Paul, and their nickname is the Golden Gusties.
  6. Wisconsin scored 10 or more goals 12 times in this span. They haven’t done so since 1990.
  7. Final record between coaches Craig Webb and Greg Ryan in this timeframe: 152-48-9. Greg Ryan would end up coaching the USWNT in 2007, aka The One Where We Took Third.

Cool? Cool. Let’s talk conference play.

Big 10 Women’s Soccer: It’s Penn State’s World

A brief reminder before I show you how the Nittany Lions have dominated Big 10 soccer: they played the inaugural Big 10 season. Nebraska started playing in 2011. Maryland and Rutgers started in 2014. Keep that in your mind. Got it?

Big 10 Conference Stats

School W L T GF GA
School W L T GF GA
Penn State 210 34 16 683 212
Wisconsin 131 92 37 381 286
Michigan 127 87 46 377 285
Minnesota 124 113 23 372 310
Ohio State 120 109 30 375 310
Illinois 110 106 23 342 333
Northwestern 89 143 28 281 351
Purdue 86 109 26 287 321
Indiana 84 145 31 264 380
Michigan State 82 149 28 267 367
Iowa 71 143 25 235 376
Nebraska 42 42 17 135 145
Rutgers 40 13 15 82 44
Maryland 13 44 11 51 111
Regular season games only Big 10’s Women’s Soccer History

The four schools to join the Big 10 after 1951 are the only ones with less than 50 regular season losses in conference play. Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland can claim that stat the easy way: they didn’t show up until this decade. Penn State earned that distinction, along with a decade straight of conference titles. From 1998 to 2007, they were the only team to hoist the title. 2008 to 2012, they won every title but had to share it twice. They’ve completely missed 2013, 2017, and 2019. I guess that’s “slipping.”

The non-Penn State team that’s won two titles most recently? Wisconsin. Who’s their head coach? Paula Wilkins. Where did she coach before coming to Madison? Penn State. Why did I fly into Ithaca two years ago? To go to a game at Penn State!

The National Picture

With that kind of performance, you’d expect Penn State to have the best NCAA resume out of all the Big 10 teams. You’d be correct: Penn State easily has the best showing in the national tournament out of anyone in the conference. They have the most appearances (25), the most wins (55), five Women’s College Cups (think the Final Four), and the Big 10’s only national title, won in 2015.

They have the same issue almost every team that plays women’s soccer has: they aren’t the University of North Carolina. The Lady Tar Heels completely dominated the sport between 1982 and 2012, winning 21 NCAA titles, 20 ACC tournaments, and losing 19 ACC regular season games. Here’s a brief list of Tar Heels you might be familiar with: Mia Hamm (no relation to Drew), Crystal Dunn, Heather O’Reilly, Tobin Heath, Allie Long, Ashlyn Harris, Jessica McDonald and Meghan Klingenberg. I promise, that’s a non-exhaustive list of World Cup stars, just the ones that I recognized.

OK, back to Wisconsin: they’re easily second out of all the other Big 10 schools. They’ve made two College Cups, taking second in 1991 and third in 1988. There’s a smattering of 2nd Round exists in the history, and Dani Rhodes helped lead Wisconsin to back-to-back Sweet 16’s. If Paula Wilkens can build on this recent success - which, given her Penn State record seems almost assured - she could make the Badgers into a steady NCAA threat.

Wisconsin’s World Cup Success

The first-ever first-overall pick from the University of Wisconsin, Rose Lavelle has cemented herself as one of the top soccer players in the world. It absolutely freaking ruled to see a Badger playing for the USWNT in the 2019 World Cup, and if she finished the nutmeg against England with a goal instead of a shot on I would have absolutely lost it.

I settled for being in a crowd screaming when she scored the goal that all but assured the World Cup to America. Here’s a brief highlight reel of Lavelle’s top accomplishments, for those that either want to relive her brilliance or want to experience it for the first time.