The Wisconsin men’s soccer team (4-12-2) heads into the Big Ten Tournament in University Park, Pa., having won three out of its last four games and the No. 7 seeded Badgers will face No. 2 seed Ohio State at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the tournament’s quarterfinal game.
Freshman goalkeeper Max Jentsch was awarded Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Monday after recording two straight shutouts to help the team achieve its first two game winning streak of the season, and he’ll need to keep his play at a high level throughout the tournament.
“He has improved like all the young guys, and the more minutes they get, the less they look like freshmen,” head coach John Trask said. “We’re going to need a great game out of Max, and he knows he’s capable of it.”
While Jentsch acknowledged it feels good to win the award, he didn’t think too much of it since it is only one week. The freshman feels the accolade just shows the team is working hard and improving. Trask added when the goalkeeper receives this type of award it is more of a team award, and Jentsch would be the first one to tell you that.
Despite starting for the Badgers as only a freshman, Jentsch said playing against older competition is nothing new to him.
“When I was younger I used to play up, so I’m kind of used to playing with older people,” Jentsch said. “I’ve learned a lot this year about soccer. I’ve just learned how to make smarter decisions, how to slow the game down when it needs to be slowed down and just control how the pace of the game goes.”
In UW’s 3-1 stand the past four games, Ohio State was the one game UW failed to win, but freshman forward Chris Prince is confident about his team’s chances against the 10-5-2 Buckeyes, who are the defending regular season and Big Ten Tournament champions.
“Coming in as the underdogs we really have nothing to lose,” Prince said. “We’re just going to take that sort of stance, fight as hard as we can and have fun. As long as we’re playing as we have been, we should be able to get the win.”
The Badgers seem to possess a new surge of confidence since changing formations to start the second half of their match against Michigan State on Oct. 17. Ever since, UW’s young squad has been improving and becoming more comfortable with the new 4-4-2 formation.
“Of course it took us a couple of games to get used to that formation, but [when] we started using the formation, that’s when we started playing our best,” Prince, who has scored five goals in the six games since the formation change, said. “I know the last four games have been the resolve of our formation change. We’re all playing a lot better.”
Trask said Ohio State will by no means be an easy first-round matchup because the Buckeyes have some very good and exciting players, including attacking midfielder Konrad Warzycha, who scored off a set piece to propel OSU to victory against the Badgers. Trask said Ohio State’s strong defense and overall quality will be a difficult test for Wisconsin.
One thing that is certain is the Badgers will have no problem adjusting to the intense level of play the Big Ten Tournament will bring.
“I expect us to come out with a lot of energy and just [be] willing to fight. Especially for our seniors, it’s possibly the last game they’re going to play in for the rest of their career,” Prince said. “Definitely for all of us, it’s the last game of the season, so we don’t want to lose – we want to keep going and hopefully make it to the NCAA Tournament.”