Aug. 26, 2004
There's nothing wrong with aiming for the top.
For the 2004 University of Wisconsin women's soccer team, a Big Ten Conference title, a trip to the NCAA tournament and a 15-plus-win season are what it has in mind. Those are no simple goals, but the Badgers have the talent to accomplish these tasks.
"It all starts with doing well in the conference," head coach Dean Duerst said. "In terms of completing a great season, we need to put ourselves in a position where we are contending for a Big Ten championship and a bid to the NCAA tournament."
The Badgers have a strong returning corps, headed by tri-captains Molly Meuer, Marla Froelich and Jessica Ring, that will be looked upon to lead the way.
Meuer, a senior midfielder/defender in her second term as captain, was one of five players to start all 21 matches in 2003. A second-team All-Big Ten selection, she scored four goals last season, including the game-winner against Iowa.
"Molly is a great leader, and we want her to make impacts throughout the season," Duerst said. "She is the kind of player that has tremendous focus and determination game in, game out."
Bringing her physical presence to the field is Froelich, a senior forward. Last season she racked up a career-high six points from two goals and two assists. She also had nine shots on goal.
"Marla is dangerous to opponents," Duerst said. "She has the ability to create havoc around the goal, and we're looking to get a lot of production out of her."
Returning to the backfield is Ring, a junior and 2003 Academic All-Big Ten pick. Also a strong, physical player, Ring has the ability to read the field well. She will anchor the defense this year, just her second season in that position after switching from forward.
Joining Meuer in the midfield are junior Katy Lindenmuth and sophomore Kara Kabellis. The former, a second-team All-Big Ten member, led the team with six goals and seven assists for 19 points during the previous campaign. The latter, meanwhile, was named to the 2003 All-Big Ten freshman team partly based on her six goals, three of which were game-winners.
"The thing about Katy, who is coming off a stellar season, is that she is always improving and becoming a better player," Duerst said. "And even though Kara, an outstanding player on corner kicks and set plays, is just a sophomore, we want her to take more responsibility in helping lead the team."
Other returnees include red-shirt junior forward Amy Vermeulen, who sat out last season with an injury but was second on the team in goals and assists in 2002, and junior midfielder Marisa Brown, another 21-match starter a year ago. Both are able to create problems in front of the goal and penetrate defenses.
At goal, sophomore Stefani Szczechowski took over for four-year starter Kelly Conway last season and made a splash. The Plymouth, Mich., native posted a 1.21 GAA, 53 saves (.716) and four shutouts, including one against top-seeded Penn State in the Big Ten tournament.
"Stefani adjusted well to the speed of the college game," Duerst said. "With a year's experience under her belt, not only will she be more comfortable, but her teammates will be more confident in her as well."
Aiding the returnees in achieving the team's goals will be the incoming freshmen, a class Duerst labels as "experienced." They will be expected to make an immediate impact and challenge for starting roles.
One such newcomer is goalkeeper Lynn Murray, who hails from Marietta, Ga. Her experience on club and regional teams as well as in national camps will certainly factor in her seeing some time at goal this season. She and freshman Ann Eshun will help to bolster the backfield.
Katy Meuer, the sister of Molly, is a versatile player joining the Badgers, which should make the team stronger, according to Duerst. Fellow classmate Taylor Walsh, a forward, also is expected to make an early contribution.
"With her wide-range of abilities, Katy will bring competition to positions all over the field," Duerst said. "Taylor has a nose for the goal. She is comfortable with the ball and handling pressure from defenses."
Collectively, the upperclassmen and freshmen will create a key element for the road to a Big Ten title--depth. Last season, a few injuries here and there slowed the team down a bit.
"We have been building up depth over the years," Duerst said. "Utilizing (our depth) will be important to us. We want our players to understand their roles within the team, so that they can help us come game time."
An early test for the team will come when it plays matches against soccer titans Kentucky and Missouri in consecutive weeks. Both games are part of invitationals--the UK Invitational also features West Virginia and Ohio, while the Nike Tiger Invitational also showcases Baylor and Iowa.
And as usual, the Big Ten will be a gauntlet, with the first match coming against perennial powerhouse Penn State. To end the season, the Badgers again will go head-to-head with in-state rivals UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay and Marquette.