Of 19 contests played this season by the University of Wisconsin women’s soccer team, 18 have been decided by two goals or fewer.
And then there was the Florida State game.
The Badgers lost 3-0 to the sixth-ranked Seminoles at home on Aug. 23, a defeat that has stuck with junior goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer.
Two games into her tenure in the No. 1 role for the Badgers, she faced three shots on target that night and didn’t stop any.
“As a keeper, that’s not ideal,” she said this week as UW prepared to enter the NCAA tournament with a 7 p.m. Friday game at Memphis. “And as a defense, I think we had a lot of things that we could have done differently.”
There are no true do-overs, but Bloomer and the Badgers feel like they’re in a much better position to face elite-level competition now than they were in the opening weeks of the season.
For Bloomer, a Hartland native, it started with developing confidence in herself and developing lines of communication with the defenders in front of her.
“So now that we have that figured out at this point and we all know that we have our jobs and we’re all going to do them and we have each other’s backs, I think it could have been a very different game had we had the same confidence then that we do now,” she said.
Bloomer took over the starting role from Caitlyn Clem, a three-year mainstay for UW. Bloomer played in only 42 minutes last season and didn’t get on the field at all as a freshman, so there was a steep learning curve in the opening weeks of the campaign.
Badgers coach Paula Wilkins credited Bloomer with getting better and stronger as the season has progressed. Much of the improvement has been in working with the teammates in front of her.
Bloomer is a strong shot-stopper, Wilkins said, but needed to develop her command of the penalty area.
“Good goalkeepers basically stop the shots from actually even happening,” Wilkins said. “She’s starting to give more and better information. She’s starting to read where people are going to play the ball so she can get there a little bit faster. And that’s going to be something that’s going to keep evolving for her as a goalkeeper as she gets older.”
Bloomer and the 23rd-ranked Badgers will get put to the test at No. 15 Memphis, the American Athletic Conference tournament champions.
UW crafted a pair of seven-game unbeaten stretches this season, including a 5-0-2 run leading into the regular-season finale. But the Badgers lost 2-1 at Ohio State to finish in a fourth-place tie with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Conference standings.
That left UW with a home quarterfinal against Illinois on Oct. 28, and the Illini advanced through penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie. The Badgers conceded goals in regulation on a penalty and a set piece, frustrating Wilkins and leaving their NCAA fate up to the committee.
“And then we sat on our hands, waiting and not knowing,” Wilkins said.
It wasn’t a comfortable spot, but UW (12-3-4), 36th in the RPI, got an at-large spot when the 64-team field was announced on Monday.
“I think that kind of nervousness and anticipation is going to help us moving forward against Memphis,” Wilkins said.
The Tigers (17-3) compare with Big Ten tournament champion Minnesota, Wilkins said, among teams the Badgers have faced this season. A quick Memphis counterattack could pose problems for UW.
Bloomer will be more ready for it than she was when the season started.
“I think that experience of knowing how to play and knowing what effort to bring is going to only help us to make a run here,” she said.