After a two-game trip to California over Labor Day Weekend, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team will be adding to their frequent flier miles this weekend as they travel to Florida for another pair of matches. Their first game will be against Florida International Friday, followed by Florida Atlantic Sunday.
Coming off a long stretch of games and travel, the Badgers’ main focus in practice this week has been recovery. The extra rest has been especially important given the fact they have a freshmen-laden roster, which has never experienced the rigor of a collegiate schedule before.
“It’s been tough since we’re on this little two-week span here of just games and traveling,” goalie Ryan Vint said. “But we’re coming off of this last week and we’re feeling pretty good about how our team is coming together, how freshmen are getting along with the upperclassmen and fitting into our system.”
Wisconsin’s roster is comprised of 13 freshmen, seven of which have already seen action this season. The most notable freshman has been forward Chris Prince, who was named to the all-tournament team in California.
“I think Chris Prince did a good job,” defender Aaron Nichols said. “He stayed pretty confident throughout both games. He was constantly staying involved. He has good fitness and you know he fits right in. He’s there physically and you could tell that he’s a very mature freshman.”
It would be hard for any team to go from opposite ends of the country with only four days rest and perform at a high level. However, if any team can do it, it’s the Badgers. This is a team that is accustomed to change. They have gone through three coaches in as many years. This season, the team is going through change in the form of players. Along with the freshmen, the Badgers have a slew of new players looking to contribute this year, including junior transfer Arnel Zahirovic and redshirt freshman Derek Pitts. Both saw their first playing time as Badgers in last weekend’s matches. Because of the recent contributions of the aforementioned players, there has been a lot of shuffling around of the Badgers’ line-up lately. This has made for a more competitive practice environment.
“We’re still trying to find the right pieces to the puzzle,” Vint said. “We’re getting close, but it’s a process. Different people step up at different times and that’s what a whole season is about. It’s not always that you have your set job. People come out and practice and perform better and that’s how it keeps changing. It keeps you on your toes.”
If there is one thing that is constant for this Badger team, it is the leadership from their senior captains: Defender Aaron Nichols, goalie Vint and midfielder Jon Rzepka. Heading into this weekend’s games against Florida International and Florida Atlantic, it will be vital for them to continue to coach the younger guys on the team and push them in practice. With the first couple of games under their belt, Nichols is confident the team will only be getting better from this point forward.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit easier,” Nichols said. “You get that first one out of the way. There’s a lot of nerves. You definitely could tell, especially in the game against UC-Irvine, because there’s a lot of young players and they’re not used to playing in bigger games. I think if anything we got better from it and I think we’ll be good going forward.”
Vint added to this notion, saying, “we’re just going to keep building. We’re going to keep building off of our success on Friday against Santa Clara and keep going with it. Hopefully it’ll translate into something bigger and better this weekend.”