Maryland knew they had a mountain to climb to claw its way back into the top-eight of the conference standings by the end of the season, and they slipped up with a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Purdue in double overtime on Sunday. Now, they're officially knocked out of contention for postseason play. The Terrapins still have three games remaining in 2015, including their final home games of the season.
This matchup was scheduled for October 4, but was rescheduled due to the potential of Hurricane Joaquin affecting the game or travel schedule. The Spartans will have a lot to play for during this Wednesday evening match, sitting in 9th place, just one point behind 8th-place Illinois.
During the preseason, the Spartans were picked to finish 11th in the conference, but they have surpassed that thanks to stingy play on defense and a balanced attack. Michigan State has allowed 0.73 goals per game this season, good for 33rd in the country. They haven't lit the scoreboard on fire themselves, scoring just 16 goals in their 15 games, but they have impressed with how those goals have come about.
The team's leading scorer and leader in points is midfielder Lexy Warner. She has three goals and four assists on the season. Those 16 goals come from a total of 10 different goal scorers, and nine Spartans have been credited with an assist over the course of the season.
The team's strengths may be a result of their incredible experience across the board. The Spartans have an astounding 14 players on the roster who are in at least their fourth year of college soccer. Nonetheless, it is a sophomore leading the team's attack, showing that the team also has plenty of talent to complement all that experience.
Goalkeeper Gabrielle Gauruder is, of course, a fifth-year senior, and is in her second year of starting duty for the Spartans. It goes without saying that there is plenty of experience in front of her, including seniors Alex Gjonaj and Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz, who were named to the Big Ten Players to Watch list in the preseason. Both have a goal from their positions in defense.
The Spartans are a strong team without a glaring weakness, and it will be interesting to see what strategy Terrapins head coach Jonathan Morgan utilizes against them.
The Badgers took sole possession of first place in the conference over the weekend, and look to continue rolling through their games this week.
Wisconsin has also utilized a balanced attack to propel them to success, though their's looks a bit different than Michigan State's. A trio of midfielders have produced two-thirds of the team's goals. Rose Lavelle and McKenna Meuer have a team-high six goals in 2015, with Lavelle edging Meuer's point total thanks to a 3-2 lead in assists.
Meuer, though, has been absurdly efficient, needing just 21 shots to score her six goals, while Lavelle has taken a much more reasonable 63. ILavelle takes the lion's share of shots for the Badgers, as Meuer has to create attacks from her midfield position and Lavelle is a traditional forward.
Kinley McNicoll is the final menacing midfielder for Wisconsin; McNicoll is a Canadian U-20 national team player who has scored four times for the Badgers this year and picked up an assist as well.
The Badgers have given up a very respectable 0.88 goals per game, partly due to redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Caitlyn Clem, who has stepped up in a big way during her first season as a starter. The backline deserves credit as well, and features Brianna Seltzer, a senior named to the Big Ten Players to Watch list.
The Badgers are a very talented team whose attacks mostly end with a midfielder taking a look at goal. Maryland will likely be prepared for that, but it remains to be seen whether they can contain them.