The No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers women’s soccer (6-2-3 Big Ten, 12-3-3 overall) is preparing for their first Big Ten Tournament game as they host the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-5-0, 11-7-0) Sunday at noon.
The Badgers come in after a hard-fought loss 2-1 against Ohio State. Wisconsin had the chance to jump to the top of the Big Ten standings if other results went their way, but instead they ended up as the No. 4 seed in the tournament, behind Penn State, Rutgers and Ohio State.
The Illini have been decisive in their games, finishing their season without a draw on their record. Despite a near .500 record in conference, the Illini have plenty of threats on their roster on offense and defense.
Senior midfielder Katie Murray, junior defender Alicia Barker and junior goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham all earned Big Ten second team honors. Murray leads the team in goals, assists and points, with totals at seven, three and 17, respectively.
Despite this statistical dominance, the Illini offense is a multi-headed hydra of sorts, with five different players tallying three or more goals, and six different players racking up three assists each.
UW junior goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer, who has tallied seven shutouts over the course of the season, and the rest of the defense have prepared for the multitude of Illini threats.
“The defense and I are making sure that we are able to lock down their forwards by trying to limit their ability to get crosses off from the outside,” Bloomer said. “We need to be dominant in the air to stop their services over the back line, and our confidence ourselves allows us to play hard for each other and shut down offensive chances.”
In her junior year, Bloomer has conducted herself impressively in goal in her first season as starting goalkeeper and is ready for postseason play.
“I’m preparing the same way I would for any other game this season,” Bloomer said. “I like to go into game days light-hearted and ready to have fun while still focusing on the details that will help us as a team. It’s all about enjoying the moment.”
Alongside her active goalkeeping in clearances and stops, Bloomer plays an important role that can’t be identified on the stat sheet. Bloomer communicates with and commands the back line and rest of the team throughout the game.
“I try to help out the back line by telling them when or who to be aware of when marking up and watching the runs of opposing forwards … I also try to encourage people when they make big plays and keep the energy high,” Bloomer said.
Opposing junior goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham and the Illini defense also pose a tough matchup for the Badgers with seven shutouts on the season. Cunningham is in her second season as starting goalie and recorded 106 saves last season, which is the second most in school history. Badgers’ leading goal scorer Lauren Rice and the rest of the team are still prepared for the upcoming challenge.
“A big part of beating the Illinois defense will be getting our lines of midfield and offense behind theirs so we can hopefully catch them on transition and get behind them,” Rice said. “We match up well with their defense one-on-one, so the more we get forward and attack with numbers … the more opportunities we will have to score.” Rice was crucial in the Badgers run of being unbeaten for seven consecutive games, scoring three game-winners through the seven, a couple of which were late, decisive goals from long range. Rice also has strong mentality entering the tournament and is looking to continue her run of good form.
“The biggest thing for me is trusting my instincts of when to attack and when to shoot,” Rice said. “I know opportunities will happen, so it’s just about waiting for them to come and doing whatever I can to help my team win.”
The Badgers last won the Big Ten Tournament in 2014, but with All-Big Ten first team selection Victoria Pickett in the midfield, All-Big Ten second team selection Dani Rhodes aiding Rice on the attack, and All-Big Ten third team defender Claire Shea to aid goalie Jordyn Bloomer on the defense, the Badgers are looking to make a title run starting with their first game against Illinois.