Adjusting to a new coach and a roster full of young players last year, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team’s 2010 campaign left the team hungry for a more successful season this year.
Finishing the year with four wins last year, the Badgers will have a much higher bar for success as their season gets underway. The UW men’s soccer squad is already off to a strong start, kicking off the season with two wins over Western Illinois and Virginia Tech.
Now off to their best start since 2008, the Badgers seem poised to make Wisconsin a serious competitor in the Big Ten.
“Being able to get that win, it makes the season feel really attainable and like we really have it at our fingertips,” senior defenseman Colin Mani said. “But, also, we don’t want to look onto it as being like everything’s answered from here.”
While the Badgers’ roster is dominated by first and second year players, the three senior captains will all be critical to the Badgers’ success. On the offensive side, Wisconsin will look to Josh Thiermann, a fifth-year senior transfer from Notre Dame, to provide much of their scoring. After sitting out much of last season due to injury, Thiermann should provide a major boost to a Badgers’ offense that often lacked firepower last season.
In just his second game with the Badgers, Thiermann netted the overtime winner in an impressive 1-0 victory over Virginia Tech.
On the other side of the field, two senior captains in Mani and Arnel Zahirovic will lead the UW defense. Seeing plenty of playing time last year, the senior duo should allow for a much more intimidating Wisconsin defense in 2011.
Although the season just started, the coaching staff is already seeing noticeable improvement over last year’s squad. The coaches are attempting to take full advantage of the preseason, preparing the team for regular season play before the players have to carefully manage their time between academics and athletics.
“I know we’re further along than we were a year ago,” head coach John Trask said. “It’s not just that they’re a year older-we as a coaching staff have just done a better job of preparing them before the grind of being a student-athlete really kicks in.”
Dropping 12 games by a single goal last year, the Badgers often found themselves on the brink of victory last year. Despite their 4-13-3 record in 2010, UW still saw some success in the team’s growth and improvement over the course of the season.
With higher expectations in 2011, one challenge Wisconsin will face is simply managing a lead. In a season where they often found themselves trailing their opponent, greater success on the field means that defense that will play an especially important role this year in allowing the Badgers to hang on for close wins.
“We didn’t have a lead very often, we we’re usually chasing the game. If and when we do get up a goal, like we did against Western Illinois, how the demands of the games change [is a challenge],” Trask said. “We feel like even though we’ve only played three competitions, a lot of little lessons that a team learns in the process of becoming a good team have kind of been thrown at these guys.”
With an extra year of experience and a focus on collective play rather than working primarily on individual skills, Wisconsin is confident that this year’s squad is groomed for success.
In particular, the Badgers have been trying to improve their team defense in the off-season. Surrendering as many as four goals in a single contest last season, defense looks to be a major factor in the team’s success this year.
“Defensive organization is a very, very big [area of focus],” Thiermann said. “We’re much better technically this year than we were last year, fitness is better, but defense is really what’s going to win us games.”
As the team gets deeper into the season and prepares for conference play in October, there’s little doubt that the team has the talent and drive for a more successful season this year. Wisconsin seems confident that its combination of experience, talent and optimism will lead to a much improved performance this year.
While the team aspires to such goals as winning the Big Ten or qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers are keeping one major goal in mind-to win. Still a young team in a transitional period, UW welcomes lofty expectations but is trying to keep their success in perspective.
“Just to put it simply, we want to win,” Thiermann said. “Last year we won four games-that’s not acceptable to any of us here. We want to be much better than just a .500 team. Yeah, we want to get into the [NCAA] Tournament, but to get there you have got to win.”