GREGORY DIXON/Herald photoWhile the talk on campus of No. 1 seeds, conference championships, and rankings at the top of the polls may usually circulate around the men’s basketball program, there’s another UW team closing in on a national championship and the spotlight.The No. 1 UW women’s hockey team — and the only Badger squad playing at home this weekend — will take center stage as they host an NCAA quarterfinal game against No. 6 Harvard Saturday night at the Kohl Center.Last year, Wisconsin also earned a first-round home game, but was forced to play at the Capital Center. Having this season’s game on campus will offer the Badgers a significant home-ice advantage as they try to advance to the Frozen Four for the second consecutive season.”We really feed off of it,” alternate captain Phoebe Monteleone said of having an energetic crowd. “It’s really exciting, and we love it when people come. Last year kind of got us on the radar, and now it’s a time for us to showcase who we are as a team.”Whether they win or lose their showcase, this will also mark the final home game for the UW seniors, a bittersweet thought for them.”It’s hard to put into words,” senior captain Bobbi-Jo Slusar said. “I guess end strong. That’s what I’m hoping for.”For Monteleone, skating for the last time in Madison gives an opportunity to reflect on her time with the program.”It’s pretty special for us; our senior class has come a long way,” Monteleone echoed. “This is what we worked for all year, to host an NCAA tournament game in our last game here.”On the other side, Harvard will be doing everything it can to ruin the seniors’ final game and send Wisconsin packing early. The Crimson’s offense comes into the game averaging 4.30 goals per game, the most prolific offense the Badgers have played all season and good for best in the nation.In fact, Harvard’s team statistics largely mirror those of UW’s, as both teams post outstanding numbers in scoring and defense. Leading the Harvard charge is senior Patty Kazmaier finalist and the NCAA’s all time leading scorer Julie Chu. A win this weekend for Wisconsin means shutting down Chu without ignoring the rest of her talented teammates.Wisconsin is quite familiar with Chu, though; coach Mark Johnson coached her in the Four Nation’s Cup earlier in the season. In the same tournament, Slusar, playing for Team Canada, got a chance to play against Harvard’s leading scorer.”She’s a great player,” Slusar said of Chu. “That’s just something we have to recognize when she’s on the ice, and we have to take it to her.”While Chu certainly has outstanding credentials, the Badgers also understand that they can’t play in awe of her.”There’s no doubt how talented she is,” Monteleone said. “At the same time she’s just another hockey player.”Current Patty Kazmaier Award holder and second-time finalist Sara Bauer won’t be paying too much attention to the showcase of her and Chu.”I think if you get distracted by one-on-one battles you’re not doing what you need to do to help the team,” Bauer said.A virtual lock to earn an NCAA tournament bid since the start of the season, this weekend will mark the first time all season for the Badgers when a loss means a certain end to the season. That, along with earning the opportunity to defend their national championship, means that their expectations are high, and there’s plenty at stake for the Badgers Saturday.”There’s definitely a need to prove ourselves,” Slusar said. “But we’re all really energized and fired up and excited. It’s going to be a challenge and a hard fought battle; we have to be consistent and positive and solid.”Even though Wisconsin may face added pressure as the defending national champions, the pressure does not fall on the Badgers alone.”Of course there’s pressure,” Monteleone said. “But there’s just as much on them as there is on us.”With women’s hockey’s most prestigious award — a trip to the Frozen Four — and a shot at the national championship on the line, there’s plenty of pressure to go around.
Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Jacob: [email protected] | @Jacob_Klinger_ Luke Jensen saw Syracuse’s opponents whimpering and shaking on the sidelines. Routine shots and serves became errors and double faults. Deficits turned into wins and the Orange came back to beat a pair of ranked opponents.In both matches, the team thrived under do-or-die pressure.‘We absolutely, positively couldn’t be short by an inch,’ Jensen said.Four singles matches went to three sets, and the Orange won all but one of them as SU (5-3, 2-1 Big East) beat No. 55 Boston College and No. 60 Harvard last weekend. Twice SU needed a clean sweep of the remaining matches on-court to win the team match. They did both times.Pressure was evident in both instances, wearing on SU’s opponents while the Orange drew strength from the situations. Jensen recruits and trains his players to win close matches. In beating ranked opponents for the first time this season, it paid off.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textOn Saturday evening, senior captain Emily Harman was the last player on the court for SU. With the team match tied 3-3, her match against No. 108 Jessica Wacnik was the decider. In the middle of the third and deciding set, Harman stepped up and broke Wacnik’s serve.After exchanging breaks, Harman broke her opponent to win the match 7-6, 4-6, 6-4. Though Harman said her experience and athleticism were keys in winning the match, she ultimately dealt with the pressure better than Wacnik.‘I think she wasn’t used to it and that I used that to my favor,’ Harman said. ‘… At that point I want the ball.’The win set the table for an equally tense match against Harvard the next morning. And once again, the team match came down to late third-set action.Down 5-4 with her opponent, Hannah Morrill, serving for the match, freshman Amanda Rodgers raised her intensity and lengthened the points. The team match was tied 3-3, and all of Rodgers’ teammates were watching.‘I would look over at them every time I won a point, and they would be like, ‘C’mon,” Rodgers said.Rodgers broke Morrill to stay alive and send the match to a tiebreaker. She won the tiebreaker 7-1 to clinch another close win for the Orange. Her performance under pressure did not surprise Jensen.When the head coach looks at potential recruits, he specifically evaluates their ability to handle pressure. He watches to see how players perform after dropping the opening set. Some players flame out and lose, while others bounce back and win. Jensen recruits the latter.So when Rodgers pulled out the match-winner after losing the first set, he saw it as a product of that analysis.‘She played her best tennis in that tiebreaker in the third, and it would have been real easy for her to pack it up and go away, but that’s not who she is,’ Jensen said. ‘… There was no doubt when I saw her that she had something extremely special.’SU thrived under the microscope last weekend, but their opponents caved. Wacnik lost her final game against Harman while serving, and Morrill had the match on her racket.The strong performance under pressure stems from the Syracuse’s competitive practices. In all of the team’s drills, players compete. There’s always a winner and a loser, Jensen said.‘I see it in the practice sessions,’ Jensen said. ‘… When you come up against stiff competition you run into it or you dive into it.’Last weekend, the team dove in. Despite fighting an infection and not starting, Anika Novacek ran five miles before the Boston College match. Jensen sees the wins as a turning point, not just for the season, but for the program as a whole.Despite the historic wins, SU is keeping pressure on itself. With a new set of Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings set to come out Thursday, Jensen dismissed their importance ahead of matches against Temple and Rutgers.The ITA is known to reward wins against ranked opponents, but harshly punish teams that lose to unranked opposition.‘If we lose one of these matches or both of these matches, everything we gained last week will go right down the drain,’ Jensen [email protected]