Later this month the Wisconsin Badgers women’s soccer team will begin a season unlike any other when they kick off a spring campaign. Despite the unusual feeling of a delayed season and the expected frigid temperatures of games in an upper midwest February (the current season opener is currently slated to be a home tilt with Iowa on the 20th), the defending Big Ten regular season champions will enter the season with high expectations and goals.
Coach Paula Wilkins will have to fill in some notable holes from her starting XI when her squad last took the field in 2019. Dani Rhodes, whose team-high 30 points nearly doubled the second place number of 16, is now a quick jaunt down I-90 South with the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL. Rhodes’ 13 goals also led the team, and her four assists were good for second on the roster. With the Big Ten Forward of the Year and second team All-American gone, Wilkins will have to look for a step-up in production elsewhere among her attacking options.
Another major departure is defender Camryn Biegalski, the second 2019 Badger product to become a Red Star. The Illinois native was on the pitch for almost every minute in the 2019 season, leading all outfield players. Her efforts won her the conference’s Defender of the Year award, as well as a second team All-American selection, and her defensive prowess and stability will be sorely missed. Other players lost from last season’s roster include versatile midfielders Payton Wesley and Allie Winterfield, who both provided important contributions all over the pitch for the Badgers.
The rest of the core from last season, however, will remain intact for the spring. Consistency is key for any great team, and the Badgers will be getting just that in net. Goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer returns for a redshirt senior season on the back of an incredible 2019 campaign in which she played every minute last season en route to a 85% save percentage and a first-team all American selection. The conference’s top shot stopper has started in between the sticks for two full years now, making her one of the most experienced (and skilled) netminders in the nation.
Although barring injury it’s unlikely we’ll see anyone else between the posts for Wisconsin this season, Bloomer has plenty of backup behind her- including junior Erin McKinney, redshirt sophomores Jamila Hamdan and Lily Rawnsley, and freshman Alex Laquaglia.
The backline in front of Bloomer should contain loads of experience as well. Claire Shea and Macy Monticello both logged over 2,000 minutes in 2019 and will return to anchor the Badger backline alongside Grace Douglas, who notched 1,966. Shea and Douglas’ status as a redshirt seniors will almost certainly make them key leaders at the back. Douglas has started for three seasons now, and Shea for two, and they’ll both provide invaluable consistency and production at the top level. Monticello will come back to the lineup following a stellar rookie campaign in which she started every game and was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team.
Who will start alongside the trio of Douglas, Shea, and Monticello, however, remains to be seen. Isabelle Verdugo will likely see an uptick in minutes at fullback following a productive freshman campaign. Sammy Kleedtke might also be called upon to play an increased role, with years of experience at the back under her belt. Rounding out the depth at the back are redshirt freshmen Gabrielle Green, Madeline Schlecht, and Madeline Cruz, as well as true freshman Faith Rosenblatt, all of whom will be looking to stake their claim in their first minutes as Badgers this spring.
In the midfield, the Badgers will also bring back several key contributors from last season. Lauren Rice anchored the unit in 2019, leading all midfielders in goals and minutes, as well as the entire team in assists, and will return for her senior season this year. She’ll be accompanied in the center of the park by fellow senior Maia Cella, who will enter her third season as a starter after being named to the all-conference team junior year. Junior Natalie Viggiano will likely also see significant minutes, looking to build off a productive 2019 in which she logged her first two career starts.
Halle Fiedler has seen minutes all over the pitch over the course of her Badger and pre-college career, and could be another candidate to solidify the midfield. Senior Grace Krygier will round out the returning players in the center of the park, looking to bring some experience to a group that lost multiple players to graduation last spring. Among the freshmen looking to make their mark and provide depth will be Jessie Hunt, Dara Andringa, and Sophia Romine.
Rounding out the roster will be an attacking unit that will look to continue the production it provided in 2019, as the Badgers racked up 57 points in 11 games. Leading the line will likely be senior Cameron Murtha, who finished second on the team in goals, assists and points last year. Emma Jaskaniec returns after an excellent debut campaign in which she started every game but one and earned all-conference freshman honors.
After Murtha and Jaskaniec however, the preferred attacking line for Wisconsin becomes less clear, and there will likely be a sizable amount of minutes up for grabs among several players. Redshirt senior Jordan McNeese has seen her role steadily grow over the last four years with the team, and could play a major role this spring. Sophomores Jenna Kiraly and Claire Odmark will also likely see more playing time, with each looking to notch their first start as Badgers. The freshman class up front is deep as well, as Rachel Dallet, Porter List, and Ali Fine all will be joining the squad hoping to make an impact in their rookie seasons.
All things considered, the expectations for the Badgers will be high heading into the 2021 season. Though the Big Ten is perhaps stronger than ever, Wisconsin will bring back much of the core of a team that dominated regular season play before a disappointing loss in the conference tournament (and a hard-fought exit in the national bracket).
With Bloomer back in net, and much of the defensive and midfield core retained, the only major question that coach Wilkins will need to answer is where the goals that Dani Rhodes provided will come from. If the offense can pick up where they left off in 2019 by finding goals elsewhere on the roster, then the Badgers will be primed to not just contend for the Big Ten title, but perhaps even make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.