With a pair of convincing wins over St. Cloud State this weekend, head coach Mark Johnson and his top-ranked Wisconsin women’s hockey team finished the first half of their season virtually unblemished. The 18-0-2 Badgers can now take a few weeks off, relax and prepare for a daunting second half of the season that includes tough away series at top-five rivals Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth.St. Cloud came to the Kohl Center ranked third in the WCHA with plenty of momentum courtesy of a five-game winning streak. The Badgers, however, were sporting an 18-game unbeaten streak that included eight wins over top 10 opponents.Wisconsin’s 7-0 and 6-2 wins over the Huskies finalized a near-perfect first half of the season, and gave Wisconsin some breathing room atop the rankings of a very competitive WCHA.Statistically, the Badgers are leading the nation in nearly every offensive and defensive category. Wisconsin is allowing a slight 0.94 goals a contest while scoring 5.26 goals a game, leading the nation in both categories.Individually, Wisconsin has plenty of representation in the national leaderboard. Six Badgers rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring. Sophomore Hilary Knight leads the nation in points, with 22 goals and 17 assists. Senior captain Erika Lawler is second nationally in points, with 32, and first in assists with 23. Also in the top 20 nationally for points are freshman Brooke Ammerman (30), junior Meghan Duggan (28), junior Jasmine Giles (24) and senior Angie Keseley (23).Senior goaltender Jessie Vetter leads the nation with an impressive 0.952 save percentage. Vetter also leads all net-minders with 17 wins and a slim 0.827 goals against average.Johnson noted how valuable Vetter has been to the team’s success, adding that strong defensive play has also helped limit opposing offenses.“She has been a stonewall back there,” Johnson said following Wisconsin’s 6-2 win on Saturday. “The people in front of her are playing well, they are playing very responsible within our own end. If we have breakdowns or the other team creates opportunities, [Vetter] has been very comfortable and she can make the saves. If we have kids that are committed to playing hard in their own end, it makes it very difficult for the other team to score goals.”The Badgers have been powered by a well-blended mix of productive freshman and veterans who dedicated themselves following last spring’s crushing loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the national championship. Johnson likes where his team is at this juncture of the season, but notes that there still is plenty of work to be done.“We are in good position, but we have 20 games still when we come back,” Lawler said. “I would not have predicted us being in this position in September. You have to complement the players, and I did after the game. They committed themselves last spring, they trained hard over the summer, put themselves in a position to get a good start and they have kept the momentum building, and building.”Also touching on the fruits of the team’s efforts was Lawler.“It is a tremendous thing that we have the best record in program history,” Lawler said. “I think we are all very proud of ourselves, because we worked for it, and it definitely did not come easy. ”Lawler, the Badgers’ pint-sized senior captain and emotional leader, sees her team as one that enjoys playing together and has great cohesion on all fronts.“A huge contribution to how successful we have been is how well we get along on and off the ice,” Lawler said. “Everyone seems to have a really good work ethic. We have found good chemistry on all four lines. I could go down the line with all my teammates and talk about how each is contributing to our success, whether they play a lot or not. Everyone is contributing in some way or another. ”
Sophomore safety Bubba Bolden will not start on Saturday, Helton said. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)No. 15 USC’s final practice before the start of the regular season brought with it a number of personnel updates for Saturday’s season opener against UNLV.Head coach Clay Helton walked into the post-practice press conference with a crumpled slip of paper in hand. On it lay the names of sophomore outside tackle Austin Jackson, senior linebacker Porter Gustin and redshirt senior tackle Toa Lobendahn, among others.Jackson will probably play, Helton said. Gustin might. Lobendahn is questionable. But the biggest name who will miss Saturday’s game will be starting safety Bubba Bolden, who is out of the lineup due to an undisclosed reason.“From a personnel standpoint, Bolden is not going to be available for the UNLV game Saturday,” Helton said at the press conference. “There’s no timetable for his return, and I can’t comment further at this time.”Until Helton made the announcement, it was believed that Bolden would make the first start of his career at safety against the Rebels.When pressed, Helton did not speak further.“Like I said, I have no comment further at this time right now,” he said.Redshirt freshman Isaiah Pola-Mao will start in Bolden’s place, Helton said, and redshirt sophomore C.J. Pollard and freshman Talanoa Hufanga will back him up.Pola-Mao redshirted his freshman year, and will get his first career start come Saturday.Hufanga, a true freshman from Crescent Valley High School in Oregon, might see action in his first-ever game as a Trojan as a result of Bolden’s absence. He finished his 2017 season with 44 tackles — seven of which were for a loss — a fumble recovery, and 35 receptions for a total of 696 yards. More injuriesHelton did provide details on other key injuries the Trojans have heading into the season, beginning with Jackson.“I know that from an injury standpoint we were talking about Jackson yesterday,” Helton said. “He looked very good today. Anticipate him playing in the game.”The 6-foot-6 sophomore only saw action in four games during his freshman campaign, but is slated to play against the Rebels after injuring his ankle during the offseason. Gustin’s name was also on the list, but Helton wasn’t quite as dead-set on the outside linebacker, who is still recuperating from a torn meniscus suffered on the third day of summer training camp. “Gustin looked very good again,” Helton said. “We will evaluate later.” He left out whether Gustin will see playing time on Saturday, which will likely be determined Friday according to Helton.Lobendahn, on the other hand, is still being evaluated with a pectoral strain.“Lobendahn did not practice today, still questionable for the game,” Helton said. “[He is] not looking as good as [Gustin or Jackson].”Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at the Coliseum on Saturday.