Since winning the NCAA Championship in 1995 and subsequently firing head coach Jim Lamder, the UW men’s soccer team has yet to regain national prominence. The Badgers let their former coach go in 1996 after several players cited grievances with Lamder for his totalitarian style of coaching.
Current head coach Kalekeni Mtalika Banda finally got the program back on track last year after a dismal 1999 season in which the team went 6-13-1 and won only one conference game. In 2000 the men’s soccer team battled to gain above a .500 record, going 10-9-1 overall with a 3-3 Big Ten record, good enough for fourth place in the conference.
Returning seven of 11 starters from last year’s successful campaign, and after losing only five lettermen, the UW soccer team enters the 2001 season with loftier aspirations.
Heading this veteran group is a senior-laden nucleus. The charge is led by striker Dominic DaPra. Possessing unmatched poise and deft ball-skills, the 6-foot-1 senior from Racine, Wisc., led the Big Ten in scoring in 2000 with fifteen goals and six assists. DaPra’s offensive prowess garnered him all-Big Ten honors.
Behind DaPra are three senior captains. Valentine Anozie, another forward, led the team in scoring in 1999 and comes off a strong 2000 season where his play earned him a place on second-team all-Big Ten. Assisting Anozie in captain’s duties are defenseman Scott Repa, who started 20 games a year ago, and the versatile Mike Congiu.
Senior standout goalie Moriba Atiba Baker is back after posting two shutouts last year. In 2000 Baker made 91 saves and had a 1.35 goals-against average.
These seniors will have to fill the gaping hole left by midfielder Narciso Fernandes, who has since moved on and earned himself a spot on the Kansas City Wizards of the MLS. Fernandes was voted last year’s team MVP, and was a two-time all-Big Ten selection.
DaPra seems ready to fill the void left in Fernandes’ absence. In the first scrimmage of the season, DaPra looked to be in mid-season form with two goals in the red team’s 2-1 victory over its teammates.
In its only exhibition game to date, the team showed explosiveness in its 3-2 victory over Loyola-Chicago last Saturday. The Badgers battled back from a 1-0 early deficit to score three goals in the last thirteen minutes of the first half. Repa started the scoring barrage with a header coming in from a precise corner kick off the foot of the highly touted freshman Ryan Nord. Soon to follow were goals by senior Aaron Lauber and sophomore Erola Gokner. Gokner’s goal, which turned out to be the game-winner, was scored with just 13 seconds left in the half.
The team opens up the regular season Friday in the Rocky Rococo Classic-UW Soccer Classic against St. Francis College.
With a favorable out-of-conference schedule, the Badgers look forward to getting off to a hot start and carrying momentum into the usual vigorous Big Ten games slated on the ledger later in the season. A good start is essential this year after last year’s season was the best since 1996; expectations are higher than they have been in years past in Madison.