Final in Bloomington— Wisconsin Soccer (@BadgerWSoccer) March 21, 2021
Looking forward to returning home this week for matches against Maryland and Rutgers! pic.twitter.com/eK5I6rXBtX
Anna Bennett opened up the scoring for the Hoosiers early, knocking home a rebound from close range after Badgers goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer was unable to control midfielder Alaina Kalin’s effort from twenty yards out. Bennett’s eleventh minute goal, the first of her career, was all the goal scoring action Yeagley Field would see on Sunday, with the rest of the match passing by without any particularly notable chances for either team.
In continuance of a pretty evident trend that’s emerged this season, the problems once again came for Wisconsin in attack. The Badgers only managed three shots on target on the day, and for most of the match struggled to create any danger in the opposing third. Wisconsin has scored the third-fewest goals in the Big Ten this season (five), and is yet to score more than once in a single game.
With eight matches played, the takeaway is starting to become the same: while Wisconsin will be able to keep just about any team they play at arms length with rock solid defense and goalkeeping, they struggle to pull away from teams as well. This is especially troubling when you look at matches against less talented sides like Iowa, who they only beat 1-0, and Nebraska, who they tied 0-0.
The one bright spot to be found in the Indiana game was the (limited) return of midfielder/forward Lauren Rice, who had yet to feature in 2021. The Indiana native made her season debut in her return to her home state, playing 31 minutes as a substitute. Hopefully this first game back, which appeared to go without any setbacks, will be the start of a big campaign for the senior. Rice led the team in assists in 2019 (in addition to adding two goals) and if she’s able to be back in the lineup at full speed in future games it could be a huge spark for a Badger team that’s struggled in a big way for creativity.
Rice’s returning influence, should she be able to contribute significantly in the coming games, comes at a crucial time for Wisconsin. The Badgers are now not only out of title contention, left behind by a two horse Rutgers and Penn State race that appears to feature a pair of potential national title contenders, but they now also might even see their at-large NCAA tournament bid slipping away.
Only four teams from the Big Ten will likely qualify for the national tournament. With the victory over Northwestern on Thursday the Badgers had once again slipped back into fourth place. But the loss to Indiana dropped Wisconsin to sixth (on tiebreakers), tied with Illinois and Purdue for that all important fourth spot behind Rutgers, Penn State and a Michigan team that currently holds onto the third place standing by just a point.
This week Wisconsin has a pair of home matches on the docket- the first being a chance to finally get the dominating victory they’ve been unable to notch against a last place Maryland team that also has the second-worst defense in the conference. They’ll then close out with a huge weekend visit from the aforementioned conference title fighter Rutgers. These games make up two of the final three for the Badgers- and winning both would be huge to ensure they stay in the race for postseason soccer after the Big Ten tournament.