How a trip to Door County helped Wisconsin men’s soccer connect on the field | College

ABBY SCHNABLE

When Carter Abbott found out that he and his teammates would be in charge of meals for the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team’s four-day trip in Door County, he was a bit nervous.

He has been on the team for three years and on every trip the team always went out to dinner. Coach Neil Jones threw the Badgers a curveball when he said they’d be split into groups to cook for each other.

There was a night where they grilled, a fajita night and even a pasta dinner. Abbott said the best meal was when sophomore goalkeeper Peter Girzadas manned the grill and served burgers and brats.

“I thought that was honestly one of the best tools that coach used to really create some bonding,” Abbott said. “It was very unique. I feel like that was honestly one of the reasons or thoughts behind it was because it’s unique. It was probably something we’ve never done before and it’s gonna make us use our brains and think a little bit.”

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That was just one way the trip served as a bonding experience. A trip that sparked a change in the team. A change Jones noticed between their exhibition games and the regular season’s start.

The Badgers lost their first exhibition game 2-0 to Chicago State. It wasn’t exactly how he wanted to start his first season as coach for the team, so he knew there was work to be done. UW won its next exhibition against St. Thomas 6-0 and then headed on their trip.

Since returning from Door County the Badgers are 1-0, almost 2-0 if it wasn’t for weather. They led 3-0 against No. 11 Tulsa before the game was ruled a no contest due to lightning and storm conditions.

“We had 25 individuals when we started here on Aug. 9,” Jones said “Now we have one team.”

He said a lot of that had to do with the four days spent off campus with little-to-no cellphone service.

It started with the more-than-three-hour bus ride when the team was split up between a few different buses. Graduate transfer Matt Chandler said they were purposely separated from the teammates they were already close to.

The players were put into rooms, again with a roommate who they weren’t as close with. Abbott and Chandler were paired together. Chandler said he hadn’t had many opportunities to connect with Abbott, but their time as roommates allowed them to deepen their friendship.

They also went on an excursion to Peninsula State Park. The coaching staff didn’t tell the players where they’d be going. The team thought they were headed to do more training. Abbott said they were dressed out, but after a light jog they were led to a beach where they got to hang out and go swimming.

Every night ended with a campfire. The team circled around with no lights but what the fire was giving off. When the coaches weren’t leading an activity, the captains were. It’s where both Chandler and Abbott said the most bonding happened.

They’d go around sharing personal stories, scary stories, having rap battles and talking about anything they could think of.

One night was a little bit more special than the others. Jones said he wanted them to come up with pillars for the team to be identified by.

“What do you want a recruit that comes into this program … what do they need to be about?” Jones said. “What do you want them to have as part of their DNA? I wanted them to come up with that, not us as coaches. This is their team.”

They split off into different groups with each one in charge of a pillar. Each group ran it by Jones to make sure it worked then they put their thoughts to paper. Chandler said each group built a poster where they defined the pillar. They gave examples of what that looked like off and on the field.

They landed on honesty, team-first mentality, discipline, trust and a winning mentality.

All the groups presented them around the firepit and it was settled.

“That was important for where we are at,” Jones said. “I’m a new coach, new coaching staff, new players, returning players that weren’t recruited here by me, new players that are recruited by me but these are all my players. These are our players. I might not have been the initial recruiter or the initial coach but these are my guys now and I’m super proud to coach them.”

The trip sets the tone for the season. Everyone was more familiar with each other and they knew what this team was about. It just had to translate onto the field.

Abbott said there was a “massive change” from everyone when they played their first game after the trip — an exhibition win against Green Bay.

It continued with a season-opening 5-0 win over Utah Tech. It carried as they played No. 11 Tulsa, when they scored three goals and may have won had it just lasted another 75 seconds.

“It kind of just clicked,” Chandler said. “Our communication was a lot better. We were moving more as one (rather) than 11 guys moving on the field. Our defense is definitely who we are. We prioritize defense more than attacking, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not about attacking as well. We scored eight goals in two games, 16 goals in five games.”

UW’s third game of the regular season is at 7 pm Thursday against UW-Milwaukee.

Neither Abbott nor Chandler are saying that they’ve worked out all they’re kinks, but they’re feeling a lot more confident. They did say that they noticed their connectivity off the field made their connectivity on the field a lot better.

“Honestly all of our pillars … that’s stuff that you wouldn’t even think of when you think of college soccer,” Abbott said. “It’s the stuff that makes the difference between a one-goal game and a 1-1 tie where they strike in the 90th minute. Just being able to trust and rely on your teammates in moments, like cooking food, or living together in … in Door County … stuff like that makes you trust and rely on your teammates when it really matters in a game.”

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