The Wisconsin mens soccer team plays host to the 13th annual Rocky Rococo Soccer Classic this weekend. The tournament kicks off Friday with Alabama A&M facing Northern Illinois at 5 p.m., followed by Wisconsin versus Saint Francis at approximately 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, NIU will take on St. Francis at noon while the Badgers take on the A&M Bulldogs at 2:30 p.m. A short awards ceremony will follow the final game.
2001 Season Preview
Now we have a nucleus, a foundation of four or five seniors who have hung with the program, creating a positive environment for others to come in and succeed. These players are the cornerstones and I think this is the foundation that the program needs right now and for the future, said UW head coach Kalekeni M. Banda.
With a strong core of veteran leadership returning to the Badger line-up for the 2001 season, it is easy to hear the excitement in Coach Bandas voice. He claims this is the best hes felt about his team since taking the reins of the UW program in 1997.
Nine seniors and a total of 19 letterwinners return from a squad that posted a 10-9-1 record and was fourth in the Big Ten with a 3-3 mark in 2000. Highlighting the list of experienced returnees are seniors Moriba Atiba Baker in goal, forwards Dominic DaPra and Valentine Anozie and defenders Scott Repa and Mike Congiu.
The Front Line
With two allBig Ten selections returning at the forward position, expect Wisconsin to have a solid front line this season. 2000 Big Ten scoring leader Dominic DaPra is the obvious choice as the Badgers go-to guy. But without the services of all-region selection Narciso Fernandes at the attacking midfield position, DaPra may feel some added pressure from opposing defenses.
Dominic has to take the reins of putting this team on his back, said Banda. Hes a goal scorer. Just give him the opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net and he can do that. Hes shown he can do that all throughout his career. But this year he is our poster boy, so to speak, and hell be the marked man. Hopefully, hell have enough people around him because we need to find somebody who can compliment him. Thats where people like Valentine Anozie come in. Those guys need to play together as much as possible.
Anozie, a second-team allBig Ten pick last year, is described by Banda as a quick, skillful player that can take on opponents, break down the defense and hopefully make room for Dominic to finish the plays.
Other keys to the Badger offense include senior Aaron Lauber, a former walk-on who was one of the first players off the bench last season, and sophomore midfielder Erol Goknur, who was voted the teams outstanding freshman after last season.
If all goes well during the offseason, Wisconsin soccer may have a slightly different look in 2001. When asked if there have been any adjustments in his coaching philosophy for the new season, Banda talks about experimenting with a 4-3-3 system.
Ideally, Im looking to coach a 4-3-3 system because I feel that it is the most exciting soccer, says Banda. Its been my dream to have a team that can play that style, but you need a group that is very athletic, very focused and hardworking.
I want to have mids and forwards who are very interchangeable and who can play up-tempo, attacking football. Movement is the key for me in a team that plays good soccer. We have some guys in here now who I think will work well within that type of system. Id be very happy to see that happen down the road.
Between The Posts
Entering his third season as Wisconsins primary goalkeeper, Moriba Atiba Baker has the experience necessary to help the UW to a successful season. Baker showed flashes of brilliance last season, helping his team post four shutouts and tallying 13 saves, the third-best mark in UW history, against No. 23 Ohio State.
You cant dismiss Moribas experience, says Banda, and Id like to see him finish up strong. Hes mature now, he knows the conference, he knows the country, he knows the environment.
A Wing and a Stopper
A strong core of defenders and defensive midfielders, including team captains Scott Repa and Mike Congiu, return to the Badger backfield with the goal of keeping pressure off Baker.
Repa, an athletic back who started all 20 games last season, has the leadership and talent to anchor the defense, whether at the sweeper spot or on the wing. Banda would like to use Repa on the outside because he has the offensive mindset to turn defense into scoring opportunities.
Congiu is likely to fill the roll of stopper this season. Hes aggressive and hes needed in the area of the field where he can do the most damage for us and win a lot of the 50-50 balls, says Banda. We need somebody who can do that and can set the tempo of how we want to play defensively.
Hosting the Championship
For the first time since 1993, the Badgers will host the Big Ten Conference Championship Tournament at the McClimon Soccer Complex. Banda is thrilled at the opportunity to showcase competitive soccer for Madison fans.
The timing couldnt have been better for us, says Banda. We have a chance to put our program back on the mapon the field and off the field. This will be a really good situation for us to play competitive soccer in front of our own people and use it as a stepping stone into a new era of Wisconsin soccer.
With an eye on the future, Banda notes that several newcomers have the skills to see playing time this season.
Forwards Nick Van Sicklen and Nicolas Aguilar, midfielder Ryan Nord and defender Joe Anderson are freshman to watch this season.