Aug. 27, 2009
After knocking on the door of the NCAA tournament last season, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team has every intention of breaking through and getting back to the Big Dance in 2009.
The Badgers seem to have the pieces in place to build on last year’s 9-7-3 finish, as they return seven starters from that team. A core of eight seniors will be looked upon to the lead the squad, which is now under the direction of first-year head coach Todd Yeagley.
A former player and assistant at Indiana, Yeagley has brought new energy and plenty of championship experience to the Badgers, who seek their first NCAA tournament berth since winning the national title in 1995.
With plenty of offensive firepower returning and a new focus on defense instituted by Yeagley and his staff, the Badgers hope to avoid the close calls that plagued them in 2008. Six of the Badgers’ seven losses last season came by a one-goal margin, while the five Big Ten Conference matches they failed to win were decided by a combined four goals.
The new staff’s commitment to defense showed during the spring season, as the Badgers posted a 2-0-2 record and tallied three shutouts to outscore their opponents by a combined 7-1 margin.
In all, the Badgers return players who accounted for 72 percent of the minutes logged last season, with senior goalkeeper Alex Horwath leading the way. Set to begin his third season in goal for UW, Horwath started all 19 games last season and posted a 1.02 goals-against average. He also ranked second in the Big Ten with 76 saves and recorded six shutouts for the second-consecutive season.
On defense, the Badgers will be tasked with replacing back-line staples Andy Miller and Zack Lambo, who were both lost to graduation. Seniors Taylor Waspi and Eric Conklin, both second-team All-Big Ten picks last year, will be the Badgers’ leaders on defense.
They will anchor a back row that also includes returning starter Aaron Nichols and veterans like senior Brian Bultman and junior Cale Cooper.
There is no shortage of talent for the Badgers in the midfield, either, with the return of senior Pablo Delgado and sophomores Austin Spohn and Colin Monasterio – a group that accounted for four goals and eight assists last season.
Delgado was limited by injury after getting off to a hot start in 2008, while Monasterio came on late and started seven of the Badgers’ final nine games on his way to earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. A key reserve who played in 15 games last year, Spohn was a breakout star of the spring season and tallied a pair of goals in just four games.
With 14 letterwinners returning from last year’s squad, the Badgers welcome back four of their top five point-scorers and 86 percent of their goals scored from a year ago.
That includes the senior duo of Scott Lorenz and Brandon Miller, who return to lead the Badges on the front line. The pair ranked 1-2 on the team in scoring a year ago, as Lorenz tallied a team-best 10 goals and Miller tied for the team high with five assists while also scoring three times.
Lorenz was the Badgers’ breakout star a year ago, ranking third in points among Big Ten players during the regular season with 23. His 10 goals were fourth-best in the league and, impressively, he put 34 of his team-high 60 shots (or 57 percent) on goal.
Of the eight games the Badgers played between Oct. 8 and Nov. 5, Lorenz found the back of the net in six, tallying a total of seven goals over that span.
In addition the strength of the Badgers’ core of returners, a total of five newcomers join the mix for 2009, as well. That includes sophomore forward Ross Seagram, who transferred to UW from Maine, reigning Illinois high school player of the year Kyle McCrudden (Wilmette, Ill.,), forward Ata Ozbay (Barrington, Ill.), defender Daniel Kohen (Los Angeles, Calif.) and midfielder Derek Pitts (Middleton, Wis.).
The Badgers’ experience will be key in navigating a difficult schedule that includes five teams ranked in the preseason NSCAA/adidas Top 25 poll and eight that played in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Following the opening weekend of the season, the Badgers will play eight of their next 10 matches on the road, with their only home dates coming against Big Ten preseason favorite Indiana (Sept. 25) and defending conference champion Michigan State (Oct. 11).
Besides the always-challenging Big Ten slate, the Badgers face the challenge of taking on NCAA tournament teams Oakland and UC-Santa Barbara in Milwaukee (Sept. 18-20), as well as a road date with Illinois-Chicago (Sept. 30) before the season is even a month old.