UW men’s soccer coach Kalekeni Banda continued his history of disappointment, even as he seems to be laying a foundation for the future.
In 2001, Wisconsin finished 10-8-1 overall, the best record in five seasons under Banda. But after starting 5-0, the Badgers missed opportunities and lacked consistency.
The season started fantastically for UW as the Badgers jumped out to the quick start, including a couple of quality victories. A loss against No. 1 Southern Methodist in the TCU tournament was excusable, but halted the early momentum.
As losses mounted, injuries occurred, and the team went into a funk.
After getting a win over Texas Christian to up their record to 6-1-0, the Badgers won just once in their next eight matches.
A tough Big Ten schedule was no surprise, but several of the losses were unexpected. After losing at Northern Illinois, a team that finished 4-12-1 overall, Wisconsin had settled to an unimpressive 7-7-1 and were dreadfully 0-3 in the Big Ten.
Banda managed to turn the team around at the right time, however. They finished their regular season with three Big Ten wins to even their conference mark at 3-3. Two of those victories were against Michigan State (12-5-1) and Ohio State (10-6-2), quality wins over the eventual Big Ten Tournament runner-up Spartans and nationally ranked Buckeyes.
The Badgers ended their regular season 10-7-1 and earned the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which they hosted and entered with momentum from the 3-0 finish.
But the Badgers’ season ended abruptly as they were upset 1-0 in the opening round of the tournament by Michigan. UW seemingly outplayed the Wolverines throughout the game but could not get the big goal when it counted.
It seemed a microcosm for the season — and Banda’s career.
Nevertheless, many Badgers had fantastic individual performances throughout the season. Seniors Dominic DaPra and Scott Repa were named all-Big Ten first team. DaPra led the Big Ten with 15 goals and 34 points. Despite playing just two seasons at Wisconsin after transferring from St. Louis, DaPra is in the top five all-time at UW in numerous categories, including points and goals.
Repa was a solid force in the defensive backfield for Wisconsin throughout his four years in school. Out of 76 games played during his career here, he has started 71 of them. He also contributed at times to the offensive charge.
Other seniors will be missed greatly for their contributions to UW soccer. Aaron Lauber was a former walk-on who blossomed brilliantly this season as DaPra’s right-hand-man on offense, finishing second on the team with 11 goals scored, including a record-tying four in one game.
Goalkeeper Moriba Baker had an injury-plagued, up-and-down season but finished as one of the top shot-savers in UW history.
Captain Mike Congiu also battled.
With all these players leaving, there are many question marks going into next season.
The key might be senior Valentine Anozie. He was a captain this season, but never played due to injury. He was redshirted and has one season left. If he chooses to come back, he will be the unquestioned leader of the team.
The upside to the ill-timed injuries is that numerous young players gained valuable experience. Freshmen David Martinez and Nick Van Sicklen became major contributors to the offense at the end of the year, and will be looked upon to carry the load next season.
2002 figures to be a pivotal year for Banda, as his core players will finally be his own recruits and his unique style of play takes hold.