Daniels: For Badger men’s soccer, it’s mission accomplished

first_imgFor the 13 seniors on the Wisconsin men’s soccer team, the last four years had been building to this moment.It sounds cheesy, but for a team that has had the odds stacked against them for the last few years, it becomes the only way to do justice to the turnaround they engineered.Their freshman years were the same year that head coach John Trask took over the program — the third coach in three years — and together the task they faced was not going to be an easy one.To put it bluntly, Wisconsin soccer was in dire straights.Out of seven teams in the Big Ten, they had been picked seventh in the 2010 conference season.It almost seemed generous for a team that had finished the previous year 7-8-2 and would now be forced to depend on its freshman class to preform right away.Throughout the 2010 season, Wisconsin lived up to expectations. With nine freshman seeing lots of minutes for the Badgers, they were one of the most inexperienced programs in the conference.And it would show, as the team would finish a measly 4-13-3, good enough for that preseason pick of seventh place in the conference.But the interesting thing about youth in a sports team is that it will eventually become one of its greatest strengths. Another year older and wiser as it headed into its sophomore season, the team was slowly transitioning into seasoned veterans.With that in mind, Trask raised the expectations and began setting a goal with his team that they would try to qualify for the NCAA tournament that year.While they would ultimately fall short in year one of their quest, almost overnight the team had become competitive. By the end of the season they had earned 10 wins — the most for the program since it won 11 games in 2003.It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that Wisconsin was going to be in serious contention when the NCAA tournament came around in 2012. Most of the team would be three-year starters, and new additions like freshman midfielders Drew Conner and Anders Kristensen had the team continuing to improve.But then tragedy struck.In the spring between the 2011 and 2012 season, star midfielder Tomislav Zadro tore his ACL. He had been the brains behind Wisconsin’s potent offense — the engine room for Wisconsin’s success.Although no one would have said it, the 2012 season had suddenly become a throwaway year. Without their star, it was hard to imagine them reaching their goal, let alone scoring goals.When the season came, they slipped up; losing some of the progress they had built up over the last year, and struggling to finish the season with another mediocre 6-8-5 record.Third time’s the charmSo when the 2013 season finally began, it was do or die.They sought redemption.Zadro was back, and the squad boasted an unrivaled 13 seniors on the roster. If experience was crucial to winning games in a tough, grind-it-out conference, they had experience to spare.Wisconsin started the season out hot and never slowed down, finishing the season 13-4-2, while Zadro claimed the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award.Just like that, their goal was reached. Milwaukee would be the matchup for the Badgers in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and Madison would be the location.As the game kicked off Thursday night, seven seniors stepped onto the field in the Wisconsin starting lineup, and momentarily it seemed that they had been reincarnated in their freshman forms. For a veteran team that wasn’t fazed easily, team members seemed nervous and passes were misplaced left and right in their first NCAA tournament appearance.But then they settled into the same ho-hum offense that has worked so well for them this season. Just 12 minutes into the game they broke the deadlock — and it couldn’t have been in a more fitting way.Senior forward Toni Ramadani made a run into corner of the penalty area, received the ball and promptly played it back toward the center of the penalty area for another on-rushing senior, forward Chris Prince, to put it away into the bottom corner.From then on, the senior leadership weathered the storm as they slowly but surely chipped away at the clock. After what seemed like an eternity to the team and the 1,473 fans that had made their way out to the McClimon Complex on a cold November night, the buzzer sounded and the game was won. Wisconsin would be headed to Notre Dame to face the Fighting Irish in the second round of the tournament.While all the players and coaches went through their normal postgame routines, — taking off their shin guards and cleats, adding ice to various injuries and talking to the media about the meaning of the win — there was something different about this night. Each one of them seemed calmer than one might expect for a team that was now faced with the challenge of playing the No. 3 team in the country if it wanted its season to continue.The only possible explanation: They were content. They had done it — made the NCAA tournament — and now they were still alive with a chance. Anything from here on out was a bonus.They were going to leave their collegiate careers on their own terms.* * *One by one each player left the stadium until just two remained: Prince finished up one last interview, while fellow senior Nick Janus stood a few yards away at the corner flag staring out over the field with the scoreboard off in the distance — still showing the victory in glowing letters and numbers “Wisconsin: 1, Milwaukee 0”.For most of the team it was time to look forward — at what the season could become — but for Janus and Prince, in that moment, they finally had the chance to reflect on everything they had already accomplished.“Take it all in Nicky,” Prince said. “This is the last time we’ll ever play on this field baby.”And with that Prince picked up his cleats and walked out to the parking lot where the rest of the team was waiting for him to join the celebration.This celebration had been a long time coming.Nick is a senior majoring in journalism and political science. Were you at the game Thursday? What did you think of Wisconsin’s win? Let him know at ndaniels@badgerherald.com.last_img

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