Aug. 22, 2006

Since taking over the head coaching duties four years ago, Wisconsin head coach Jeff Rohrman has done everything in his power to build the Badgers into a winner and it appears as though his project is near completion. With eight seniors and all 11 starters returning this season, the 2006 squad may be the deepest and most experienced team that Rohrman has ever coached.

"We have a lot of experience this year," Rohrman said. "I am expecting a lot from this senior class in terms of leadership on and off the field. I think they're going to lead us in the right direction this fall."

Not only is Wisconsin's roster experienced, it is also very talented. The Badgers return three players who were honored on one of the Big Ten's all-conference teams last season.

Rohrman's crew wasn't that far off last season. The Badgers tasted bitter one-goal defeats at No. 2 New Mexico, 14th-ranked Fairleigh Dickinson and No. 24 Washington. All three losses to ranked opponents came in-between Badger wins, where one break may have given the team momentum for the season. 

After a rough stretch in the middle of the season, the team won four of its final six games to end on a good note and carry momentum into the 2006 campaign.

"We had some very challenging losses last year," he said. "If you look over the last two or three seasons, this senior class has been a part of some big wins and some really tough losses. We're there, it's now just a matter of getting over that hump and finding ways to keep leads and close games out."

The Badgers' schedule also seems to be in their favor this year. After opening on the road the first two weekends, Wisconsin will play nine of its final 14 regular season matches at the friendly confines of the McClimon Soccer Complex, a place where the Badgers earned five of their eight wins last season. 

Up Front The Badgers return much of their offensive firepower from a year ago, including redshirt-sophomore Victor Diaz, who proved to be one of the best finishers in the league at the end of last year. 

Diaz, a 5-foot-8 dynamo from Madrid, Spain, scored goals in six straight games down the stretch, including four against Big Ten opponents. The late season surge earned him All-Big Ten second team and all-freshman team honors. 

Joining Diaz in the front line are three players well acquainted with Rohrman's system. Seniors Reid Johnson and Matthew Jelacic as well as junior Christopher Ede will all be looked upon to provide the offense.

Ede, a CoSIDA Academic All-District V selection, was one of four Badgers to record seven points a year ago with two goals and three assists. Johnson had three goals, including the game-winner against Oakland University. 

Junior Dirk Pearson, redshirt-freshman Eric Conklin and true freshmen Brian Bultman, Bryan Gerster and Brandon Miller will all vie for time up front.

"We should be a very good team going forward, Rohrman said. "It's going to require a lot of energy and consistency out of our forwards, but I think we have a good core that's going to get it done for us."

At Midfield

Juniors B.J. Goodman and Erik Ortega were in the starting lineup for all 19 contests a year ago and both will be counted on to provide not only strong play, but leadership again this season. 

Goodman, a two-year letterwinner, tallied a goal and an assist last season and provided solid defensive play. Ortega packed more of an offensive punch, tying for third on the team with seven points.

Talented sophomore Kenny Dix, who started all but three games last season, will continue to be an important member of the starting squad.

UW has its greatest depth in the midfield. Upperclassmen William Bagayoko, Nick Caronna and Sho Fujita as well as freshmen Pablo Delgado, Jon Rzepka, Matthew Arcangeli and Taylor Waspi will fight to crack the starting lineup this season.

"I'm excited about our midfield; it's a very talented group," Rohrman said. "I think we have the players to play wide in a 3-5-2, but we're also versatile enough to play a 4-4-2. It's nice to have those options."

On Defense

One area the Badgers are hoping to improve this season is in the defensive backfield. Last season the team ranked last in the Big Ten in goals allowed and first in goalkeeper saves, two trends they'd like to reverse. 

Senior captain Aaron Hohlbein highlights this unit. Last year, Hohlbein earned first team All-Big Ten honors and has the potential to reach even greater heights. He is joined by fellow senior Hamid Afsari and a pair of sophomores: Zack Lambo and Andy Miller. Seniors Frank Iaizzo and Andrew Cardona as well as freshmen Scott Lorenz, Josh White and Scott Smith will provide options off the bench.

"I like the core of our defenders," Rohrman said. "One of the things I feel we have to do this fall is to be a little bit better on the defensive side. That starts with the defenders, but it's everybody in front of them as well. We emphasized that theme this spring that we're going to have to continue through the fall."

In the Net

Senior Jake Settle returns for his second full season of starting duties in net. The 6-foot-1 keeper had several memorable performances last season, including a six-save gem to beat Northwestern in the regular season finale. Behind him are junior Mike Hood and true freshman Ryan Vint. 

Hood shut out Marquette last season, and compiled an 0.81 goals against average in four appearances. Vint comes in with a wealth of achievements at the Minnesota high school level. 

"I told people last year that Jake Settle was one of the best goalkeepers around for a solid stretch of that season," Rohrman said. "The job is his to lose, but Mike Hood has done well, and he will certainly compete for minutes."