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Chris Prince had a standout freshman season last year, leading the Badgers with 14 goals and 26 shots on goal.[/media-credit]

While Chris Prince’s 14 points as a freshman may have come as a surprise to many Badger fans, the Wisconsin coaching staff knew he was the rare player ready to make an immediate impact.

Prince, a highly touted player from Naperville High School – outside Chicago, started 18 of his 20 games a freshman and showed he was more than prepared for Big Ten soccer, netting seven goals for the Wisconsin men’s soccer team last year. Coaches note that Prince was ready for college soccer before camp even started his freshman year, a testament to his toughness and skill.

UW head coach John Trask said he felt the superior coaching and extremely high level of play Prince experienced as a member of the Chicago Fire academy club – a team known for producing high-level college players – were critical to his quick transition in Madison.

Despite his quick impact for UW, the sophomore forward has battled through injuries in his first two years with the Badgers, suffering a separated shoulder last season and nursing an ankle injury in 2011.

Yet, Prince still has a reputation as one of the toughest players on the team and refuses to sit out for any extended period.

“He was ready for Big Ten soccer before he got to us, so therefore he was successful immediately,” head coach John Trask said. “He has a bright future; it’s been a tough go around for him for two years now. … I don’t think Wisconsin fans nor our opponents have seen the best of Chris Prince on a consistent level.”

Though just in his second year, Prince is expected to be one of Wisconsin’s top scoring threats alongside Tomislav Zadro and Josh Thiermann. In last week’s matchup with UC-Irvine, Prince drew the penalty kick that got the Badgers back in the game and then scored his first goal of the year to tie it up. His performance against the Anteaters showed that he has the ability to single-handedly bring UW back into any game.

In addition to his technical skills with the ball, Prince identifies his physicality as another key to making an early impact. The Big Ten seems known for its bruising play in all sports, and men’s soccer is no different.

“I’ve always been more of a physical player; I got in the weight room about a year-and-a-half ago, and I feel like it helped my game immensely, and especially in the Big Ten for how physical it is,” Prince said. “I had my head on right; I didn’t come out all cocky – and some of the freshmen are like that. I came in, listened to the captains, let them give me as much work as possible and just worked off of that.”

While his technical ability and physicality are certainly a key to Prince’s success, another aspect of his game allows him to be a complete player – his mindset. Despite setting school records for goals in a season, career goals and career points in high school, the sophomore arrived on campus realizing he still had much to learn.

His 2010 performance drew plenty of accolades, as Prince was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team, All-Freshman Big Ten Team and the Big Ten All-Tournament Team last year.

“He’s skilled, he’s fast, he’s strong, but he’s a confident player and you have to have it up there, you have to have it in your head,” Zadro, a junior midfielder, said. “I think he just wants to succeed and always wants to improve.”

In Trask’s second year at the helm of the men’s soccer team, the Badgers are hoping for significant improvement this year with the goal of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, and Prince will be a major factor in just how far this year’s squad goes. With Prince not off to an incredible start individually, the coaching staff feels that the ankle injury is what’s keeping him from truly taking off in his second year.

“Chris, easily if he were 100 percent healthy, we think he’d be at three or four goals right now,” Trask said. “He’s that level of player; he’s a marquee player in Division I soccer.”

If Prince continues to develop and turns into the player coaches foresee, he could bring a new element to the Wisconsin men’s soccer program. On a team full of young players, Prince is one of the most proven and still has three years to build his game.

“Last year, I felt like I became much more of a possession or one-two touch player,” Prince said. “I understand the game well, and I’d like to get our team a lot more involved going forward.”