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. ”
To everyone — the pundit, the avid fan, the man who sells you bacon-wrapped hot dogs on Exposition Boulevard — Lane Kiffin represents a number of things.To some, he’s a perpetual brat.To others, he’s a Trojan prince, leading USC back from NCAA sanctions.Growing up · Though the fourth-youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Kiffin has experienced his share of controversy. – Razan Al Marzouqi | Daily TrojanTruth, in turn, becomes muddied, and it’s understandably challenging to decipher fact from fiction. Just who exactly is the Trojans’ third-year coach? Do the stereotypes stick? Is he actually that arrogant? Is he actually the boy wonder?But answering just yes or no to such sweeping generalities would be dishonest and unfair. I can’t pretend to respond to either, exactly. Many of us cover Lane Kiffin, but how many of us truly know Lane Kiffin on any sort of personal level?I have interacted with him enough to express a few opinions confidently. For starters, I’ve found him to be thoughtful and calculated — he doesn’t do or say things for the sake of simply doing or saying them. And two, he carries a better sense of humor than he’s given credit for. I like that.But as many will inevitably point out, that doesn’t mean his record is spotless.More or less, he comes across as incredibly stubborn.This is one flaw that has been accentuated in recent weeks, as USC stumbled at Stanford, 21-14, and four days later, he infamously stormed out of a press conference after 29 seconds following a question about the return of an injured player.“Kiffin is a talented, aggressive recruiter and a decent football strategist whose spoiled-brat arrogance constantly undermines his efforts to become a great coach,” wrote Grantland’s Shane Ryan last month. “He stretches rules, misreads interpersonal situations, and issues the wrong kind of challenges to his enemies. People excuse these as the follies of youth, but that’s a cop-out; they’re the follies of character, and maturity isn’t always related to age.”Yup, there are flaws. Ryan chooses the term “spoiled-brat arrogance,” which leans toward hyperbole but is unmistakably rooted in reality. Football coaches tend to be stubborn-minded, petty people. They’re often micromanagers. And Kiffin is a football coach, after all.But the funny thing is, No. 13 USC reversing course this season and meeting its Coliseum-sized preseason expectations largely hinges on whether Kiffin, 37, can still grow as a coach and become less stubborn, and more mature.Friday indicated this might be possible.Toward the end of his team’s bye-week practice at Howard Jones Field, Kiffin, fielding questions from a smaller contingent of reporters, at last admitted a rather obvious but important point. As the team’s offensive play caller, he called a subpar game in USC’s mid-September road loss to Stanford — in case anyone wasn’t aware.“You’d love to have it back but you can’t,” he said. “In coaching, you’re just like players. Every game is not the same. You’re going to have some games where you make some better calls and get in a rhythm. I didn’t feel like I did really well in that game with our players.”He took blame, and it was refreshing.What makes this noteworthy is that it was a public admission. For a while now, Kiffin has received a substantial amount of criticism for a failure to take ownership — at least publicly — for events that have transpired during his tenure, including the Stanford game. Usually, he has deferred, highlighting a particular play or circumstance.But Friday’s admission suggests a lot.It suggests the “arrogant” coach might be open to honest, self-evaluation. It suggests the coach is receptive to criticism. It suggests the coach can still reflect and look to better himself.That said, none of the aforementioned possibilities might be true. But I want to be fair and at least give him that chance. Cynicism shouldn’t be our guiding principle. As much time as we’ve invested in thinking about Kiffin, he still hasn’t reached the age of 40 and has only been a head coach for a total of 62 games.That’s relatively young, which begs the question whether he has room to grow.The Trojans’ success over the remaining two-thirds of the season will be tied to his ability — or inability — to do so. “The 19th Hole” runs Tuesdays. If you would like to comment on this story, visit DailyTrojan.com or email Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org.