Paula Wilkins leans on 11 seniors as Badgers prepare for season
Wisconsin women's soccer are the trailblazers for UW Athletics as they're the first team to begin practice during pandemic.
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As Wisconsin women’s soccer head coach, Paula Wilkins prepares for her 14th season in Madison, like all coaches across the country she faces new challenges presented by COVID-19.
The Badgers were the first program to begin preseason camp on Tuesday and practicing everyday since. Wearing masks while they train, Wilkins shared how her players complained of the difficulty breathing once the masks become sweaty but shared her new label for the team, Trailblazers.
“I said you’re a flagship..” That’s what Wilkins noticed her team is for other programs on campus. The first to full practice as a team they knew they’re bringing new questions and searching for new answers from administrators.
Coming off back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances in the NCAA tournament, Wilkins has confidence this team can handle the pressure thanks to its leadership.
“I actually told the team that I’m happy with the people that are in place right now. We have 11 seniors. So the culture, the belief, all of that was in place and I’m just fortunate that as a coach that this landed during this group of players.” Wilkins told local media over a zoom call Friday afternoon.
While leading the way on the field, the Badgers head coach has pushed her team to lead off of it as well.
“There’s two things you have to weigh. Obviously getting your season to go but what I’ve told them also, you have to look at the bigger picture. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Let’s, not be selfish with our choices in what we’re trying to do. We’re also trying to do what’s right for the public.”
The Badgers take these precautionary steps as they’re still unclear of when the 2020 Big Ten season will begin. Wilkins had been told a tentative start date can take place on September 5, 15 or 21. Still, they practice on.
“There’s a social responsibility that we have, that if we’re lucky enough to have this opportunity to play our sport we also have to be conscience of how we are in public. What we do in public to set the tone for other people like wearing a mask when they need to be safe with other people, not attending large gatherings or bars, because that’s where its linked to.”
No Badgers have opted out of the 2020 women’s soccer season but the dialogue between players and coaches for their safety and mental health remains open. As is a Big Ten rule for student-athletes that opt out, Wilkins stands by honoring her players scholarships if they choose to sit out this season due to COVID-19.
For now, it’s 100% participation to be trailblazers towards a third straight Sweet Sixteen appearance, while remaining COVID-19 free.
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