Since taking the reins of the Wisconsin mens soccer program in February, head coach Jeff Rohrman has stressed the idea of bringing a renewed excitement to UW soccer. After hitting the recruiting trail and leading the team through a five-game spring exhibition season, Rohrman can feel that excitement beginning to grow, both within his players and among members of the Midwest soccer community as a whole.
I think this spring for me was really an opportunity to get to know the current players and also to get the love for the game back for them, said Rohrman. What we were trying to do was to get the team reenergized about soccer, about what their potential is, about going to training every day, about their enthusiasm and excitement. We took great steps this spring as far as establishing those things and I think if you asked any of the players they would say the same thing.
Ive also had a lot of opportunities to reconnect with the soccer community in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, Rohrman continued. After talking to club coaches, high school coaches, those types of people, I think that theres some excitement out there about Wisconsin soccer.
The Badgers backed up that excitement with some on-field success this spring, posting a 2-2-1 record against some tough competition. Playing without one of the Big Tens top scoring duos from last fall, 2001 seniors Dominic DaPra and Aaron Lauber, Wisconsin kicked off the Rohrman era with a three-game spring break trip to North Carolina. Playing all three games in a three-day span, the Badgers posted a 2-0 victory against North Carolina State, fought to a 1-1 tie with the Wilmington Hammerheads, a Division 3 professional league team, and earned a 3-0 shutout against UNC Wilmington. Freshmen David Martinez and Nick Van Sicklen tallied two goals apiece on the trip.
The Badgers rounded out their spring schedule with a pair of contests against two professional A-League opponents, the Milwaukee Rampage and the Minnesota Thunder. Facing the Rampage on Wisconsins home turf, in front of nearly 300 fans at the McClimon Soccer Complex, UW gave the crowd an impressive show, holding Milwaukee scoreless until the 56th minute before the Rampage got a pair of second-half goals to win, 2-0. Freshman goalkeeper Eric Hanson made several outstanding stops in front of the Badger net, registering five saves in the first-half shutout.
Playing in about four inches of snow in Mankato, Minn., Wisconsin took a 1-0 lead on the Thunder in the 55th minute as freshman John McGrady found the back of the net off a feed from freshman Nicolas Aguilar. The Badgers nearly held on to beat the A-League powerhouse, but a pair of goals in the last 10 minutes of play gave the Thunder a 2-1 victory.
Certainly we had a great trip to North Carolina, said Rohrman. Results-wise, we did extremely well there. We finished off our spring with two quality exhibition games with the Thunder and Rampage. I thought we played well against the Rampage, despite the result. We saw that we can play at their level and play against those types of teams. I thought we did extremely well against the Thunder and were in a position to win a game against what is typically a top-five A-League team. I think the team gained a lot of confidence and came together very well this spring. As I told them at the end of the year we need to carry that into the fall.
There are a couple players who really had great springs. Eric Hanson had a tremendous spring. Our two center backs, John McGrady and Joe Anderson, really came a long way. The relationship, organization and communication that they had really started to work pretty well towards the end of the spring.
Looking ahead, Rohrman sees a team loaded with the potential to take Wisconsin soccer to the next level. While the Badgers will lose the talents of seven seniors from a year ago, they will return six starters to the lineup, five who were freshmen in 2001. Also returning is senior Valentine Anozie who was a major scoring threat for the UW before being forced to redshirt last season due to injury.
I think some of the keys this fall will be the quality and strength of leadership from our seniors and how well our younger players step up and really take the next step in terms of their development, Rohrman said. I think this fall is going to be very competitive in terms of playing time and starting positions. I dont think you could really say that anybody has locked in on a starting position. I think its going to be a healthy competition at a lot of positions. I really think those guys are eager to meet those challenges.