As the Wisconsin men's soccer team is kicking into the season in hopes of conquering the Big Ten, junior tri-captain Eric Hanson is already proving that he is one of the finest goalkeepers in the conference.
Though an injury caused Hanson to miss the Illinois-Chicago and Ohio State games, he has bounced back quite nicely and has helped the Badgers get back on track after a slow start to the season. Hanson proved that he was at full strength last week as he shutout both UW-Milwaukee and Penn State. The shutout against Penn State marked his conference-topping fifth of the year. These efforts helped him earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week recognition.
"It feels real good to have the season that I'm having," Hanson said. "Half-way through the Penn State game it actually came to mind that I might get the award. It was good because I don't think I played my best this past week, it was my first two games back and I was a little rusty still, so it felt good to get two shutouts. It looked like I played really good but there's still stuff that I have to work on."
These two victories, thanks to Hanson, have given the Badgers the confidence they need as they pass the half-way point to the season. Head coach Jeff Rohrman depends on Hanson's leadership to keep the team staying strong for the remainder of the year.
"He brings us added confidence and he brings us that mindset that we can do it and can get over it," Rohrman said. "He's going to be there to save us too; he's been able to pull us out of some things. He made a great save against UWM to keep us in the game 20 minutes from the end, and he's capable of keeping us in games when we're under a little bit of pressure. It's hard to dominate for 90 minutes, other teams are going get their moments and their chances and you need a guy in the back that's got that confidence and the ability to keep you in the game and he brings that."
All of this success didn't come at once for Hanson. As with the majority of collegiate athletes, it took time and patience for him to get to the place that he is at today. Hanson took the path most traveled as he redshirted his freshman year and did not play during the fall season his first year of eligibility. Last season he saw action in all 19 games and had 77 saves, an average of 4.05 per game.
"Redshirting helped a lot because I didn't have to worry about the pressures of being in goal my freshman year," Hanson said. "I could make mistakes, and just learn playing from day to day. It's helped a lot, being a little older and being more experienced now. It was a good experience."
As this is Rohrman's second year coaching the Badgers he did not have the opportunity the beginning of Hanson's UW career. From the time he has been here, though, Rohrman has noticed definite progress in Hanson's game.
"Day in and day out he's one of the hardest working guys," Rohrman said. "He's got a great professional approach to training and the game itself and I think that shows. His performance in the games has been very good. The hard work he puts in during training has really helped him in the games we've had and he's one of our better leaders…I should say he's one of the best leaders I've seen in a long time. He's just able to rally the guys, he brings them together, gets us all on the same page. With a young set of backs, it's important to have somebody with that ability to communicate with them, organize them and lead them back there. He brings all of those things and much more."
Hanson has only gotten warmed up and last week's performance proved that he is not ready to stop anytime soon. The Badgers will depend on his leadership and goaltending abilities to get them through the rest of the season.
"My expectations for the rest of the season are just to play solid game to game," Hanson said. "I kind of faded at the end of last season. I was injured for two games this year but that might actually help us in the long run because I got two games off, but (my expectation is) just to play solid and (the) awards and whatnot will fall in line, it doesn't really matter just as long as we do well."