It takes a certain level of confidence and poise to protect the goal in soccer. Wisconsin goalkeeper Max Jentsch seems to have the right personality for the position.
After shutting out Indiana in a five-save performance, Jentsch has more than proved his worth in five games this year for the Badgers. Out with a back injury for the first several games of the season, the sophomore has allowed only four goals since returning as a starter.
Starting 10 games as a true freshman in 2010, the Badger goalkeeper’s impressive run this year has come as no surprise to the coaching staff. Playing a critical role in UW’s opening round win in last year’s Big Ten Tournament, coaches couldn’t wait to have Jentsch back on the field.
“Max played a lot of games; he was the guy who was in goal in our [Big Ten] semifinal last year, took us there on penalty kicks,” head coach John Trask said. “We are 3-0-2 since he’s been back — doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Goalies often carry a reputation for having a particular personality that distinguishes them from the rest of the team, and Jentsch is no different.
From their different-colored jerseys to the constant pressure they face as the last man to prevent the opponent from scoring, goalies are often described as “unique” and “interesting” characters.
“[Goalkeepers] are capable of just blocking out, and they’re usually interesting people,” Trask said. “Max is probably, in some ways, the least crazy goalkeeper I know, but there’s also an edge to him that he brings that makes him quirky in his own right.”
Though only a sophomore, the Hartland, Wis., native has experience on the field well beyond his years. After picking up his first college start against Marquette early in the 2010 season after fifth-year senior goalkeeper Ryan Vint went down with an injury, Jentsch recorded four shutouts and finished the season with a 3-6-1 record.
Despite the fact that he was competing with a senior captain for the starting goalkeeper spot, the sophomore split time with Vint for most of the season. Trask noted that the dominance in the box he displayed in practice allowed him to earn plenty time over the established senior. Named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week in his first year suiting up for the cardinal and white, Jentsch made an immediate impact in goal for the Badgers.
While teammates and coaches were extremely impressed with his ability to take one of the most difficult positions on the field in his first couple months on campus, Jentsch found the move to the college game a manageable one.
“It was a little different just because everyone was a little more skilled than I was used to, but I played up when I was younger, so I’ve been playing with older guys since I’ve been little,” Jentsch said.
After growing more comfortable with the defense in front of him as a sophomore, Jentsch’s role on the team is only growing in his second year. As he continues to develop into his role as a director of the defense and becomes a more vocal leader from the box, the goalkeeper has already shown his maturity through his first games of the 2011 season.
Coaches and teammates noted that fellow sophomore Ciro Martinez did an impressive job stepping in for Jentsch when he was out, but the Badgers have welcomed the return of a familiar face in goal. His aggressiveness and abilities in front of the goal have certainly helped Wisconsin get off to a much better start this year, but his impact reaches beyond his duties as a goalie.
As the leader of the Wisconsin defense, Jentsch’s return also allows the defense to play at the top of its game with its usual leader protecting the net.
“You have a better sense of what his positioning is, just because we have played with him a lot of times before,” senior defender Colin Mani said. “Max getting all those minutes last year, you know his voice, you know exactly what he’s telling you, you know what he means by it. … It’s just the overall comfort level of having him back there.”
Nevertheless, Jentsch is already looking for more in his first year on the field as UW’s full-time starter. After shutting down a prolific Indiana offense in the first game of the conference season, the sophomore goalkeeper looks like he’s just getting comfortable back behind the net.
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the Badgers’ opponents.
“After the season last year I set goals for myself, and one of my goals was to be first-team All-Conference, but I mean, that was a big goal after last year and not playing that much in the Big Ten,” Jentsch said. “Ever since high school, I’ve just been setting goals for myself and trying to work towards those goals.”