"It's always great the play the best teams in the conference first because it sets the standard of where we need to be," Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins said. "It exploits what you need to fix and I think it's really important that we know that."
Ironically for Wilkins, this will be her first time in her six-year coaching career to lead her team against Penn State, the conference champion for the past six years.
After recording a remarkable 119-19-11 record in her tenure at Penn State, Wilkins will lead her new team against her former employers Friday night at the McClimon Soccer Complex.
The last time Penn State (5-2-1) visited Madison in 2005, the Nittany Lions, who finished 23-0-2 that season, barely survived their trip, winning on a dramatic goal in overtime.
Although the Badgers (3-5-1) have struggled to finish in the upper half of the Big Ten this decade, Wisconsin always seems to play its best game whenever Penn State is on the schedule.
"I think we reach a little more because we know there's a lot at stake," senior captain Shannon Terry said. "Knocking out the conference's top team is such a great feeling and would change our energy. Beating Penn State is a priority right now and would be amazing if we can do it."
Beating Penn State is also Wilkins' top priority, as although she knows a majority of the PSU players since they were young teenagers, Wisconsin has struggled to put together a complete performance so far in the 2007 season.
Last week in their conference road opener, the Badgers played poorly in the first half against No.11 Purdue and were down 3-0 going into halftime. It was the same story against the Hoosiers a couple days later, as Wisconsin was down 2-0 after just 23 minutes. While the deficits weren't enormous, the Badgers didn't help themselves out in anyway, failing to tally a goal the entire weekend.
"It's been a problem so far the entire season, playing a complete game," Terry said. "It's a thing mentality that we have to work on; being focused the entire game start to finish."
To help combat this problem, Wilkins has been harping consistently throughout practice this week in preparation to Penn State, although she's looking for to the challenge of coaching against her former players.
"I need to make sure my team is prepared to win the game," Wilkins said. "I have great respect for Penn State and all the players. I've known many of them for a long time and it's going to be an exciting game for me. I'm looking forward to it and it will be interesting to see what happens."
Although she wouldn't give away any trade secrets and rightfully so, Wilkins has the players excited for the match up, as she is gearing practice to exposing some of the weaknesses the Nittany Lions possess.
"She's knows exactly what they're going to do, their Achilles heel, their weaknesses and that's good for us," Terry said. "We've geared practice towards that stuff."
While Wilkins down plays the game, citing that it's just another game with special circumstances, her senior captains know that Wilkins wants this game. For a coach with such high expectations for her players and her players wanting and pushing to impress their new coach, the players know that beating her former school would put a huge smile on her face.
"You want to impress [Paula]," Terry said. "After games we lose or don't play well, we feel like we let her down and that's not a good feeling. I think she wants to beat Penn State more than anyone else. If we beat Penn State, we feel we'll be able to make her proud."