In a match that was all but a must-win to open up a pathway to a top four finish in the Big Ten, the Badgers rose to the occasion late, with Jenna Kiraly knocking in a goal in the dying minutes. Kiraly’s winner was engineered by senior Cameron Murtha- the forward chased down a 50/50 ball between her and onrushing Rutgers goalkeeper Megan McClelland, beat McClelland with a strong first touch, and sent a cross onto the boot of Kiraly at point blank range. Also vital in the goal was midfielder Maia Cella, whose crunching sliding challenge set the sequence into motion.
Here's a look at the game-winning goal by Jenna! pic.twitter.com/EuH9F6Cu9u— Wisconsin Soccer (@BadgerWSoccer) March 28, 2021
The win comes with no small amount of significance for the Badgers. For starters, this was Senior Day, an emotional final (regular season anyway, since the locations of conference tournament games remain unclear) match at McClimon Field for the team’s nine graduating players.
With its howling lake winds and less-than-endearing proximity to loud transit, McClimon has been a fortress for the program in recent years. Wisconsin has only lost once at the Santiago Bernabéu of the upper Midwest since the start of the 2019 season, an impressive feat given how deep the Big Ten has been the last two years.
But defeating the Scarlet Knights also had more long-term meaning for Wisconsin than a nice farewell from the seniors to the chilly confines of the McClimon chain link fences. Though there’s no way to know for certain how many bids the powers-at-be in the NCAA Tournament selection committee will assign to the Big Ten, conventional wisdom has the number at four.
With a logjam in the standings past a defined top two of Penn State and Rutgers, a Badger side that entered Sunday with a slim lead couldn’t afford to slip up against one of the conferences’ best teams. While the Badgers still now don’t have a top four spot locked up, they can breathe a lot easier knowing they control their own destiny heading into their final game of the season against Minnesota (especially after Indiana took down Michigan later in the day on Sunday).
And on the note of the selection committee- standings aside, a win over Rutgers is major should their choice come down to resume and eye test over raw record. For large portions of the season, Rutgers has looked like a team that could potentially compete for a national title. They will, barring a catastrophe in the Big Ten tournament, be a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
To think of this in basketball terms, Wisconsin just notched a Quad I win, which, until Michigan figures out if they want to be a consistently good team or not, they previously had been missing from their resume. Barring an embarrassing pair of losses to Minnesota on Saturday and in the Big Ten tournament in April, it will be very hard for the committee to turn down this Badger team.
Wisconsin moved to 6-3-1 on the season with the win, while Rutgers fell to 6-2-2. The Badgers will conclude their season with the aforementioned visit to rival Minnesota on Saturday at 1 p.m. CT, before beginning conference tournament play.
On a final note, congratulations and thank you to Sammy Kleedtke, Lauren Rice, Grace Krygier, Maia Cella, Halle Fiedler, Cameron Murtha, Jordyn Bloomer, Jordan McNeese, and Claire Shea, who were all honored this Senior Day.