The Wisconsin men’s soccer team dashed any hopes of bringing home a Big Ten title Sunday in a deflating 2-0 Senior Day loss to Ohio State.
With both teams heading into the matchup at the McClimon Complex at 3-1 in the Big Ten, Wisconsin needed a victory to remain in contention for a regular season conference title.
However, after Buckeyes forward Chris Hegngi fired a penalty kick into the back of the net 26 minutes into the game, the Badgers never found a way to recover. While Wisconsin came out of the locker room at halftime with an energized attack on the offensive side, they were unable to overcome a talented Ohio State defense and impressive goalkeeping.
“Ohio State is a mature team. Once they had the 1-0 lead and with an excellent goalkeeper they were willing to absorb some [of Wisconsin's offensive opportunities],” head coach John Trask said.
The Badgers were only able to get off five shots in the first half, but their aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball in the second period left them with countless missed opportunities. Several free kicks from Tomislav Zadro just outside the box looked like perfect scoring opportunities for UW, but headers from Chris Prince and David Caban found their way away from the goal.
Zadro also had an aggressive free kick that was right on target saved by Ohio State goalie Matt Lampson, whose seven saves were key to keeping the Badgers without a goal. Wisconsin players pointed out that the emotional aspect of playing for the seniors may have carried them to a much stronger performance in the second period.
“I think halftime was a big motivator for us,” sophomore midfielder Nick Janus said. “I mean it’s our Senior Day. We wanted to come out here and play for our seniors. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the win. But, second half we were able to pick it up a lot more, I think just by the overall motivation.”
Two missed scoring opportunities by senior forward Josh Thiermann – one off a header that was kept out of the net by an OSU defender and a tough shot captured by the goalie – had Wisconsin looking like it would tie up the Buckeyes until late in the game.
However, UW’s hopes of evening the score were quickly put to rest in the 69th minute when Parnell Hegngi – the second Hegngi brother to score for the Buckeyes – curled a kick from outside the box just inside the right post. Wisconsin goalie Max Jentsch nearly got a glove on it, but the goal sealed the game for Ohio State and shut down the Badgers’ conference title hopes.
Though Wisconsin ultimately outshot the Buckeyes, the strength and aggressiveness of Ohio State’s offensive unit was key in allowing them to pick up the victory.
“[Ohio State's offense is] definitely a big, strong unit,” senior defender Colin Mani said. “They’ve got some size on them and some pretty good pace, but I mean we faced other good teams this year as well and we were able to handle them. They were able to get the best of us on a couple set pieces.”
After falling to the Buckeyes, Trask also pointed out that the Badgers will likely have to win the Big Ten Tournament to fulfill their season-long goal of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
The UW head coach noted that though this team has shown tremendous improvement over last year’s squad, their inability to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive at home show there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“Maybe we’re not ready for [the NCAA Tournament] conversation yet,” Trask said. “We’re a team that’s improved quite a bit from last year. Last year we played this team in the Big Ten Tournament; we took them to penalty kicks with some good defending. I think they outshot us 33-4.”
Though Ohio State was able to put up two goals against a usually stingy UW defense, Badgers goalie Max Jentsch was key to keeping Wisconsin in the game. With an impressive save early in the game that easily could have been a goal for the Buckeyes and another great save early in the second period, Jentsch’s five saves kept OSU from running away with the game.
As the Badgers attempt to dull the pain of a tough loss, they are looking forward to their final regular season game against Penn State Sunday. Though the game may not affect their NCAA Tournament chances, the players realize the importance of building momentum and confidence as they head into the decisive Big Ten Tournament.
“You want this game to kind of hurt you, and I mean you need to think about it, … but you got to eventually get over it, and just through this week in training, we just got to have a really hard, solid week in training and get a lot of things accomplished and get ready for Sunday,” Mani said.