Wisconsin’s trip to University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Wednesday may seem like nothing more than a game wedged in between the all-important Big Ten schedule, but major bragging rights are on the line against their in-state rival.
Playing some of their best soccer of the season since the beginning of the conference slate and cracking the NCAA top 25 at No. 22, the Badgers will be looking to keep momentum going in a matchup against a tough Green Bay squad. With only one loss in their last eight games, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team will need to get past the Phoenix to remain atop the race for a Big Ten title.
Several Badgers have ties to UW-Green Bay players, meaning the final non-conference game of the year carries special meaning.
“There’s going to be a lot of pride on the field tomorrow for both programs, and we’re looking forward to a great test,” head coach John Trask said. “This is why you play your in-state rivals, and Green Bay has a great tradition. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament a couple times in the last few years.”
Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and finishing last season at 13-4-2, the Phoenix will provide a major test for the Badgers as they head into their final three Big Ten games of the year.
The Phoenix reside in the Horizon League, and Wisconsin is the only Big Ten squad on Green Bay’s schedule. UW-Green Bay will be hungry for a statement win in the comforts of Aldo Santaga Stadium. On the offensive side of the ball, senior midfielder Tony Walls leads the Phoenix with 12 points and will provide yet another test to a UW defense that has shown tremendous improvement in recent games.
Walls is joined on offense by a player making an immediate impact as a freshman in forward Kirby Allen, who has three goals on the year. With all this talent, the Badgers are careful to not overlook a team with a potent offense that could easily wreck UW’s momentum at a crucial point in the season.
“I took a look at the rankings, and we’re ranked pretty good, and if we want to stay high like that, we have to keep winning our games — and we’re always looking to improve,” junior midfielder Tomislav Zadro said. “So, there shouldn’t be a lack of motivation on our side.”
After falling to the Phoenix last season in overtime, Wisconsin will be looking for redemption against its in-state rival in a challenging Green Bay environment.
According to Trask, non-conference tests such as the one against UW-Green Bay could define how far this team goes in 2011. With a season-long goal of bringing the Big Ten title to Madison, much hangs in the balance for this mid-season matchup.
“This is what separates, I believe, the programs that [really] deserve to be in the NCAA tournament from the ones that don’t [and] who can maintain that focus and not just look forward to a Big Ten game, but look forward to every single game they’re going to play in,” Trask said.
Currently riding a two-game winning streak, UW-Green Bay will have no shortage of motivation as it prepares to take on its big-school rival. Although the Badgers have recently taken down quality conference squads, they need to stay focused to defeat the Phoenix on the road.
After starting out 3-0 in Big Ten play, the Badgers are relying on a similar strategy against the Phoenix that they hope will keep their recent success alive. As Wisconsin prepares for a difficult game in Green Bay that could be considered a “trap game,” the team realizes that the implications of this game could last until the end of the season.
“We have four games in the span of a week and a half, so any way we can keep the momentum going with a win, playing well, that will help us into the game against Northwestern, and playing well there will help us in the next game, and so on,” freshman forward David Caban said. “Not looking past Green Bay, we need to get a win, and then we look on after that.”