After a disappointing 2012 season, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team is confident that this year’s campaign will be a more successful one.
The Badgers’ biggest struggle last season came on the offensive side of the ball, where they recorded the fewest shots, points, goals, assists and corner kicks in the Big Ten. Part of that was the team missing 2011 First Team All-Big Ten honoree and fifth-year senior Tomislav Zadro, who sat out the season with a torn ACL.
“He was our offensive midfielder and he was the guy that we linked everything through,” defenseman AJ Cochran said of what Zadro meant to the team. “Whenever we needed to go on the attack, we tried to find Zadro; Zadro would make things happen for us.”
With Zadro back in the fold, this Badger squad is looking to build on its success from this past spring, in which it went 4-0-2 without conceding a goal.
“I’d say we’re excited, just because I think in my four years here this has been by far the best team in the preseason,” senior co-captain Chris Prince said. “I think we have the right pieces to put together something special this year.”
Coach John Trask echoed Prince’s statements when he said, “We feel that for the first time we are two deep at every spot on the field, and now competition will settle who can rise to the occasion and be the guy that wins that spot.”
While it’s always a team’s goal to have a good, strong season, this particular group has extra motivation: This is the last go-around for an eye-popping 13 seniors. To say that the Badgers are an experienced team, full of leaders, both on the field and off, would be an understatement.
“We actually just named a fourth captain, Blake Succa, along with our other three (Paul Yonga, Prince, Zadro) and I’ve never done that before in my career,” head coach John Trask said. “All 13 seniors are great leaders and any of them could be captains. We have a lot of older players that want to have success before they leave this university.”
Cochran, a junior, has felt the ripple effects of what having a group of 13 seniors on a team can do for one’s spirit.
“We have a great group of 13 seniors and it just brings a great leadership group and the feeling that we’re going into the season with high expectations, and we’re expecting to do well,” he said.
Having 13 seniors on the roster makes things easier for the coaching staff as well. Trask described that the experience on this team affects how he and his assistant coaches run practices “because when you have this type of depth, you’re able to push them a little bit harder in the preseason.”
From a captain’s perspective, things are a little bit easier than they normally would be with team members knowing their roles and how the team operates. Prince, currently serving his second term as captain, has already noticed such a difference.
“This year it’s a lot easier because we have 13 seniors, and they help us out because it’s a huge leadership group and it’s not just us [four],” Prince said. “I would say it’s a lot easier on the field because of the seniority and, therefore, the experience that we have, so you don’t have to boss everyone around that much.”
This Badger squad recognizes that it not only has the opportunity to make some noise in the Big Ten, but also nationally.
“I’ve put the challenge of the NCAA tournament out there,” Trask said. “The challenge is to get there and I’ve also told them that I want to be home, in Madison, for a game or two in the NCAA tournament.”
“We definitely want to be the top team in the Big Ten,” Prince said. “That would get us a bye for the Big Ten tournament so that we wouldn’t have to play two games and that would get us to the NCAA tournament so that’s the number one target.”
Their confidence is contagious as everyone brought a new attitude and desire to training camp with a hope to surprise everyone this year – especially after being pegged to finish sixth in the conference by the Big Ten coaches.
The reigning NCAA national champion Indiana Hoosiers visit Madison Oct. 11, and while it could be easy to mark that game down on the calendar, the Badgers are taking it one game at a time.
“Honestly we haven’t even talked about [Indiana] at all,” Prince said. “There’s a lot of big games, but really it’s one game at a time. Even if it is the politically correct answer, it is the right answer that we are looking forward to UMKC so we can take it one game at a time.”
“If we win right away,” Prince added, “that will just keep us rolling for the rest of the season.”