Sept. 16, 2010
By Larry Watts
For Kodee Williams, it wasn't a difficult choice this summer. The Toronto, Ontario native could play club soccer with the U-18 provincial team, where she could try and duplicate the gold medal she won at nationals as part of the U-16 squad two years earlier, or she could join the Toronto Lady Lynx in the United Soccer Leagues W-League. She chose the latter.
"Playing in the W-League this summer gave me a chance to play against collegiate players from the States who were bigger, faster and stronger," the 5-foot-5 midfielder says. "It was so much different than playing for a club team, where you often run around like a chicken with your head cut off. Not only do the collegiate players offer a faster game, but also it is more strategic.
"I thought I played well. Maybe I could have played a little better. It definitely prepared me for college and how a college coach will coach you. The biggest issue I had was testing my endurance because you can't come back into a game once you leave. It was a great experience and I hope to play with the Lynx again next year."
The more battle-tested her youngsters are the better for Wisconsin's fourth-year head coach Paula Wilkins. Last year, the Badgers posted their best season in 15 years, finishing third in the Big Ten (5-1-4) and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament before ending the season at 10-6-6.
However, the Badgers suffered heavy graduation losses. Of the 30 players on the 2010 roster, 21 are sophomores and freshmen. The adjustment period has resulted in only two goals and a 1-3-2 start to the new season.
Half of the goals, so to speak, belong to Williams, who scored the Badgers' first goal of the season off a deflection in the first half against Washington. However, Wisconsin couldn't hold onto the lead and wound up with a 1-1 draw in double overtime.
"I was beyond excited," she says. "It was something the team needed, but we just didn't get the result we wanted. However, I think it set us up for upcoming games."
Following a 0-0 deadlock with South Dakota State, the Badgers finally cracked into the win column with a 1-0 victory over UW-Milwaukee.
"We may have a young team, but I think it's really great to know this program will have a long length ahead of it," says Williams, who is one of eight freshmen on the squad. "The majority of the players who are out there are juniors and sophomores and the nice thing is we are eager to play and hungry for it.
"We haven't had a strong start to our season, but that will improve. We know there is a lot of inexperience, but we're still striving for our goals and expect to improve on what was done last season. As we get into the season, I think you will see more focus and we will be willing to do anything to achieve our goals, which includes making it back to the NCAA Tournament.
"We have yet to mesh as a team, but we're a family and we'll see what we can do," she adds. "I know I have been a bit nervous getting the ball and have choked on a few opportunities, but I'm getting more confident as we go along and I think I will have more important production in future games."
Williams, who is one of five Canadians on the Wisconsin roster, says she always knew she wanted to play soccer in the United States. Her preference was the Big Ten Conference because the schools are closer to her home.
"I also had offers from some small schools in Florida, Cincinnati and Purdue," she says. "My mom wanted me to go to Florida because of the weather and she would be able to visit me all the time. But it just wasn't what I was looking for."
After an official visit to Purdue, Williams took her next trip to Wisconsin, where former club teammate Lacey Warner, now a sophomore, is a defender for the Badgers.
"I had played with Lacey since we were 8 and 9 and she kept telling me how much she loved Wisconsin," Williams says. "As soon as I came here, I said, 'This is it.' I live right by Lake Ontario and the two lakes here (Monona and Mendota) remind me a lot of home. I really fell in love with the coaches and the campus."
Williams played hockey for four years and ran cross country and track for two seasons at Birchmount Park Collegiate in Toronto. However, she only played soccer for her club team.
"The high school soccer just wasn't at the same level as the club programs," she says. "I wound up dropping cross country and track because I had too much on my plate between club soccer and hockey. I had been playing both soccer and hockey since I was 4 or 5."
Williams says she misses hockey a lot. "We have twins (Alev and Derya Kelter) on our soccer team who play both sports here at Wisconsin and I was thinking about giving it a try, but I think it might be too much for me," she says.
According to Williams, her initial plans are to major in business at Wisconsin. Her mother, Christine, is a national sales executive for a credit bureau so she wouldn't mind following in her footsteps by landing a job in marketing or public relations.
"I enjoy being around people and talking to them," she says. "One of the great things about Wisconsin is there are so many friendly people around here who are very accepting and there's always something to do on this campus."