Going from concern to resilience to abrupt disappointment, much can be said about the Wisconsin women’s soccer team’s season as a whole.As the teams hangs up their cleats on the 2015 campaign, they can relish in the glory of the regular season conference title, an eight-game winning streak in a competitive Big Ten and a respectable closing record (11-6-3).At the same time, they must own a slow start to the regular season (three wins in first 10 games), back-to-back losses to end their campaign (one of them a first round conference tournament loss) and a failure to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.But the team’s resilience is this season’s key takeaway. Needing to overcome the departures of last year’s graduating seniors, the Badgers were required to get creative, adaptive and tough on both sides of the ball.From the experienced seniors to incoming freshman, everyone got on board and responded to the challenge.Starting on offense, star forwards Cara Walls and Kodee Williams’ departures, who combined to account for half of the team’s 44 goals last season (and 12 game-winners) left a significant void at the forward position with unproven depth to replace it. To help compensate, head coach Paula Wilkins implemented an unconventional offensive scheme dominated by the attacking midfielders.By allowing Rose Lavelle and McKenna Meuer the opportunity to showcase their versatility as scoring threats, the two lead a high-powered aggressive offense that averaged 16 shots per game after a sluggish start to the year. Lavelle especially proved her worth, leading the team with seven goals en route to the only unanimous All-Big Ten selection of the season for any position.It didn’t stop there. As the replacement to all-conference keeper Gen Richard, sophomore Caitlyn Clem came into the season with a lot to prove. With the help of experienced defenders in Molly Laufenberg and Brianna Stelzer, Clem responded to lofty expectations by allowing just 19 goals (0.90 average per game) against 200 shots on the season.Clem is Courtney Clem’s sister, the former starting keeper for Michigan State, and Lauren Clem’s cousin,the current starting keeper for Northwestern. Clem’s six consecutive shutouts during conference play solidified her status among the Big Ten’s best, and likely a good spot at the Thanksgiving dinner table in the process.Clem wasn’t the only player to make a statement in her first year of action on the pitch. The freshmen forwards, especially Steph Fabry and Victoria Pickett, showed a quick transition into the demands of Big Ten play. Managing to score two goals in limited time off the bench this season, Fabry established herself as opportunistic, and should be a fixture in the starting front next season.Alongside her is Pickett, who as a late addition to the team, notched her first point just 55 minutes into her first game. From that point on, Pickett never looked back, providing the offense with a much-needed midseason spark to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. The team will part ways with graduating Canadian star Kinley McNicoll, but with Pickett leading the charge for the next three years, Canada will be well represented in red and white.At the team’s low point of the season, a 4-0 loss to archrival Penn State that dropped them below .500, Wilkins gathered her team around and asked two simple questions:“Who do you want to be? How do you want to go down?”When they hoisted the Big Ten trophy a month later for the first time in 21 years, the answer was clear.Looking at what they have in place for the future, the answer could very well remain the same.
Eskridge burst down the sideline for 21 yards and a touchdown. In 40 seconds, with less than a minute gone in the third quarter, the Broncos had gotten one score back.After the game, when asked about the third quarter, SU head coach Dino Babers started to say he was frustrated, then paused.“I’m not going to say the word ‘frustrated.’ I was disappointed,” he said. “Because we talked about this at halftime: what we needed to do to put the game away. We went out and did the exact opposite in the game.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAfter smothering the Broncos for the better part of 30 minutes, Syracuse’s defense allowed 336 yards and 28 points in the third quarter. Save for a four-play drive that ended in a punt, the four Broncos’ possessions yielding touchdowns took, altogether, 3:26 and 12 plays. Complacency, a loss of control and an absent pass rush kept the door open wide enough for Western Michigan to elbow its way back into a would-be blowout.But after almost bleeding a 27-point lead to nothing, Syracuse (1-0) restored authority over the contest, outlasting Western Michigan (0-1), 55-42, at Waldo Stadium on Friday night.“Defense or offense,” defensive lineman Kendall Coleman said, “it only takes a couple of plays to get the ball rolling.”After an SU 3-and-out and trading punts, Western Michigan started a drive pinned at its 5-yard line. Two plays and 11 yards later, the Broncos lined up from their own 16. With two receivers out left, a wingback, tailback and a receiver wide right, Wassink took the snap and dropped back. He took one step and heaved a pass 45 yards down the field. Syracuse defensive backs Scoop Bradshaw and Andre Cisco sprinted to the landing spot, poised to intercept the pass when Eskridge glided between the two, hauled in the pass and dashed into the end zone.Western Michigan’s two ensuing drives followed a similar pattern: Chunk plays getting the Broncos into the end zone. Fewer than nine minutes into the quarter, Syracuse’s lead had shrunk to six.“They kept on throwing it ‘deep-deep,’” safety Evan Foster said. “My first thoughts were, ‘They’re about to run the deep post behind me.”Wassink and Eskridge’s flourishing connection stemmed from SU’s lack of a pass rush, defensive end Kendall Coleman said. The Orange’s pass rushers simply didn’t win one-on-one matchups, Coleman said. And though it didn’t matter much in the first half, giving Wassink the time to stand in the pocket and steadily dissect the defense, Coleman said, set the Broncos up for key halftime adjustments. “They came out running different plays,” Coleman said, “and we weren’t quite ready to adjust to it.”Cornerback Scoop Bradshaw, whose main assignment was covering Eskridge, said the scout on the receiver — and running back LeVante Bellamy, who gashed the Orange repeatedly — centered around game-breaking speed. In response, Bradshaw played soft coverage. On a play when Bradshaw left more than 10 yards of cushion, Eskridge simply ran away from him for a 59-yard completion.Bradshaw was also expecting more safety help over the top, mainly from freshman Andre Cisco. But Cisco was often out of position or beat by Eskridge’s speed himself.Further, Coleman said, there was a general lack of urgency and focus from the Orange during halftime. Safety Evan Foster went further, saying during the week he wasn’t as focused as he should’ve been and there was a certain sense of security.“We weren’t really mentally prepared,” Foster said. “(We weren’t) mentally in the game, really.”As the game unraveled before them, the defense knew it was, to some degree, letting it happen, Coleman said. Starting quarterback Eric Dungey came back in, and SU started trading touchdowns with WMU.The defense wanted to make its play, and to seize back the control it had in the first half.On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wassink rolled right and looked downfield. He didn’t see the hit coming, nor did he see Kielan Whitner standing right where he threw the ball. A 20-yard interception return and a 27-yard touchdown scamper from Dungey later, and Syracuse had survived its woeful third quarter. KALAMAZOO, Mich. — It only took two plays for Western Michigan to get the spark of life it needed out of halftime. After a Ravian Pierce fumble on the first play from the scrimmage gifted the Broncos possession at midfield, the offense that finished the first half with as many first downs as interceptions — one — went on the attack. Standing in the shotgun at his own 42, WMU quarterback Jon Wassink dropped back and delivered a 37-yard strike to Jayden Reed. The next play, Wassink dropped back again. This time, he instantly looked left and linked up with his favorite target: D’Wayne Eskridge. Comments Published on September 1, 2018 at 12:55 am Contact Andrew: firstname.lastname@example.org | @A_E_Graham Facebook Twitter Google+