It didn't take long for the University of Wisconsin men's soccer team to make their presence felt nationally. Currently sitting at 3-1-0, the squad hasn't lost since dropping its first game of the season to Tulsa. Since their commanding performance at last weekend's Cal Legacy Tournament in Berkeley, where the Badgers rattled off consecutive wins against an underrated Stanford squad and then No. 7 California, the national media has begun to recognize their tremendous level of play.
With the highest national ranking they have received (20th) in over 10 years, the Badgers look to continue their recent success much closer to home this weekend at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Classic, where they will face up with nationally ranked Gonzaga on Friday and Drake on Sunday.
Wisconsin head coach Jeff Rohrman has been pleased with how his team has handled their nonconference schedule so far.
"Our main goal, the thing that we are always looking toward, is the NCAA Championship," Rohrman said. "But we know that if we don't take care of business against the teams that we play out of the Big Ten, we'll be in trouble later on."
Considering that 12 of the 18 teams the Badgers play this year are not in the Big Ten, Rohrman’s squad has to make sure they don't overlook opponents they do not play on a regular basis.
"It is certainly a dangerous game to play, having a mentality that says 'Hey, we can drop a game or two here or there and be OK'," Rohrman said. "Your bid to get into the (NCAA) tournament is strengthened most by your out-of-conference opponents. We have to make sure we make some noise in those games when they come around."
The Badgers won't have to wait long for that time either, as they open up their conference schedule on the road in Ann Arbor on the 23rd, where they will take on a young, but talented Michigan squad.
Until then, however, Wisconsin will have to focus on the task at hand: Making sure they go 2-0 in back-to-back national invitationals, a feat that might get them into a top 10 poll position for the first time since 1996, when they were ranked seventh.
First up is 20th ranked Gonzaga who, much like the Badgers, started the season with little fanfare but have since upset major powerhouses. Preseason No. 1 and defending national champion UC-Santa Barbara and No. 15 Washington have been among the Bulldog's first victims.
"(Gonzaga) will definitely be a very challenging match up for us," Rohrman said. "They are a senior-laden team that plays on a lot of emotion. They are a team that is certainly playing to make a statement, and they are doing that."
Rohrman believes that his players will be up to the challenges that Gonzaga will present.
"We need to make sure we come out of the gates ready to fight and match their enthusiasm," Rohrman said. "At this point (in the season), the guys know what they can each bring individually to the team to have a good day out there."
Although Gonzaga may be the Badgers’ toughest test of the weekend, they must make sure that they do not overlook the Drake game Sunday.
"The last time we played Drake, we were in an absolute battle with them," Rohrman said. "They are going to be a great test for us on Sunday on a lot of levels."
UW has an undefeated record against both Gonzaga and Drake, having gone 2-0 against Gonzaga all-time and 7-0 against Drake. Rohrman and the Badgers hope that they can use their strong start and well-balanced team to make sure those winning percentages don't change anytime soon.