The Wisconsin Badgers women’s soccer team advanced to the Big Ten semifinals and took an important step towards a national tournament bid on Sunday, defeating Northwestern 4-2 on penalties.
The match only came down to the spot after 110 minutes of physical open play. It was the visiting Wildcats who took a shock lead early, with Lily Gilbertson capitalizing off of a poor clearance and finding the net with a wonderful curled effort from just outside the box.
Soon after halftime though, the Badgers struck back as senior Cameron Murtha rose above all others in the box to head home a long free kick delivery from Sammy Kleedtke. From there the game entered a long stalemate- both teams had some heart-stopping chances to take home a victory, including multiple in sudden death overtime, but by the time the whistle blew on extra time the game was still locked in a one all draw.
With penalties looming, all eyes turned to senior goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer- one of the nation’s best shot stoppers- to come up big and propel the team to the semifinal. And that’s just what the Hartland native did, making a stellar save on the Wildcats’ second shot to give the Badgers a chance to go ahead.
With an advantage on the line, the team’s designated kickers did not disappoint. Ever-confident attacking midfielder Emma Jaskaniec fired home the first spot kick to put the Badgers up by one, before experienced seniors Lauren Rice and Sammy Kleedtke each coolly converted their opportunities to maintain the lead. And after another diving save from Bloomer put Wisconsin halfway on the plane to College Park, sophomore striker Claire Odmark slotted home the winning pen to send a massive crowd of about 40 relatives (and, uh, me) at McClimon Field into raptures.
The win ensures the Badgers will head to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, with only a date with Rutgers in their way of a shot for the trophy. Wisconsin has faced the conference’s easternmost member before, defeating the Scarlet Knights 1-0 at home just weeks ago in a major victory, but Thursday’s game should be no easy task.
Coach Paula Wilkins noted it’s not easy to beat a team twice, and with the semifinals and finals being held at Penn State the Badgers will have to take on Rutgers on neutral ground instead of within the hallowed chain links of McClimon. One advantage Wisconsin will have though is their experience- the Scarlet Knights often play as many as five freshmen in their starting lineup, taking a trial-by-fire approach to player development not dissimilar to the youthful squad Northwestern brought to Madison on Sunday.
The Badgers, who prefer a starting XI with six seniors, have a certain calm in late crucial moments that served them well against the Wildcats, and it will be interesting to see if that upper hand remains against another talented but young Rutgers side.
And now for, as per tradition, a bracketology update: I still don’t really know. Your guess as to where the Badgers stand with the selection committee is as good as mine. What did you expect, actual insider reporting? My best estimate would be Wisconsin can clinch an at-large bid if they win against an all-but-already-qualified Rutgers team, and if they lose I simply have no clue. I could do a whole separate post comparing Wisconsin’s resume with some other bubble teams and the final takeaway would just be “well they’re certainly on the bubble.” So my professional opinion? They should probably try to win on Thursday.
#B1GWSOC Update ⚽— Big Ten Soccer (@B1GSoccer) April 12, 2021
The 2020-21 #B1G Women's Soccer Tournament bracket is set, with semifinals Thursday (5 and 7:30 p.m. ET on @BigTenNetwork) and championship Sunday (noon ET on @BigTenNetwork)
Tune in or visit https://t.co/uvCfQHpTMO for details - this tournament will be pic.twitter.com/bmlVeiJayd
Wisconsin will take on Rutgers at 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday in College Park, Pa. with a trip to the Big Ten title game on the line. The match will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.