Aug. 25, 2005
In his fourth year as head coach, Jeff Rohrman has the assembled a team that despite lacking any seniors, will be capable of challenging the conference and nation's toughest competitors. Rohrman has built a 29-30-1 record in his career at Wisconsin and has been at the helm for some important accomplishments in program history.
With no seniors on the roster, the Badgers will rely on captain Aaron Hohlbein and a core of seven other juniors to lead the team. Hohlbein's solo role as captain is the first time Wisconsin has had just one captain since Brian Doherty served the team in 1998.
"Aaron is clearly one of the most respected and well-liked players we have," said Rohrman. "He is as consistent as they come, day-in and day-out, which will make him an excellent captain. He is one that we will depend on in the back. He is committed to establishing our defense as one of the best in the league."
Complementing that group of juniors are seven sophomores, including three Big Ten All-Freshmen selections and three of College Soccer News' Top-100 Freshmen in 2004. In addition, Wisconsin welcomes eight true freshmen to the team.
When looking ahead to the 2005 season Rohrman, admits there will be specific challenges to face, but did not identify any specific opponents the team would focus on.
"We can't really highlight any opponents, because we'd be highlighting the whole page," said Rohrman. "We've assembled a tremendous and challenging schedule for the guys. I know they are excited to test themselves against the best in the country and this is going to be a year that will really show us what we're made of."
With 11 NCAA tournament qualifiers on the docket in 2005, the Badgers will need to focus the same intensity and effort on every team. With the consistency, effort and quality of play evidenced in the team's 2005 spring exhibition season as well as the final stretch of the regular season in 2004, the Badgers appear to be trending up. Finishing the regular season on a 6-3 run, the Badgers carried the momentum to the spring where they did not lose a game to a college team.
"We've been close the last two seasons," commented Rohrman. "This season, we need to be sure to make that jump. With this core of athletes, having the experiences they have the last couple years, there's no reason we can't expect some great things from them this year."
After graduating last season's top two scorers, the remaining Badgers will need to transition swiftly to the scoring positions. In the absence of scoring sensations. Jed Hohlbein and Nick Van Sicklen, Rohrman will turn to Reid Johnson and Matt Jelacic as two returners that will take up the slack. Other possible goal-scorers are sophomores Erik Ortega, Dirk Pearson, Christopher Ede and redshirt freshman Victor Diaz. Diaz performed exceptionally in the spring season with an astonishing four-goal performance in a 4-3 win against UCF.
"We've got a lot of quality forwards that are capable of finishing plays off," said Rohrman. "It's just going to be a matter of finding the right three of four who demonstrate, through preseason, that they can get the job done for us."
Admittedly, the midfield is the area with the most question marks. This year's midfield has a large gap to fill after the departure of Noah Goerlitz. Though the loss means restructuring the midsection, it also allows for several combinations to be experimented with.
"I think there is a lot of versatility and flexibility in our midfield and how we play with the personnel we have," observed Rohrman. "I think we could very easily go from a three-man midfield to a five-man midfield."
Experimenting with different formats through the spring and summer, Rohrman is convinced everything will sort itself out by the fall.
"How we play through the midfield is really yet to be determined," said Rohrman. "We tinkered with a couple of things this spring. It depends on how some players come in, how they perform and which collection of guys makes the most sense together."
With all of last year's defenders returning and three recruits added to the mix, this season's backfield looks to be the team's stronghold. With Hohlbein as a fixture in the center, others like Hamid Afsari, Nick Caronna, Andrew Cardona, and William Bagayoko will compete to join him on the flanks. Rohrman also mentioned newcomers Zack Lambo and Andy Miller could also compete for time right away.
"I think we should be a lot more talented back there and a little bit tougher to score on this year," said Rohrman.
In the Net
As a two-year captain and starter, Eric Hanson's exit from the team leaves the goal position open for three keepers to battle for. With two starts and four games under his belt, junior Jake Settle is the most experienced of the group. His shutout vs. Illinois-Chicago in 2003 earned him honors as Big Ten Player of the Week. Still, redshirt sophomore Mike Hood showed promise through the spring season and while untested in the regular season and will surely make a charge at the position.
"Both Jake and Mike had good moments this spring," said Rohrman. "Both of them know that going into the fall they need to come in and show the consistency that will demonstrate that they are able to be our starter. As much as proving it to the next guy and the coaching staff, they have to prove it to the team and the players in front of them. It's going to be a battle through the preseason."
Though Settle and Hood are the frontrunners as upperclassmen, Rohrman mentioned newcomer Byron Neal as one that may compete for the position and if nothing else, pressure the others to excel.
"Certainly there is no pressure on (Neal) to step in right away, which can be a valuable thing to have," admitted Rohrman. "When you come in relaxed with no expectation to jump in right away it can produce some good things."
With three qualified goalkeepers on the roster, the idea of splitting time in the net has not eluded the coaching staff; however Rohrman said he expects to find a "clear cut No. 1," though if it is close he may consider a rotation.