UWGB men’s soccer team celebrates its run to NCAA tournament | Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY – The hard work never stops when you want to be good at something.
Just ask Jeremy Bonomo.
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men’s soccer coach celebrated the Phoenix earning an NCAA tournament bid after a win at Oakland on Saturday by going from the field to the airport.
He had a flight to catch to Wichita, Kansas, for some recruiting on Sunday.
“The difference between soccer and football and basketball is that there is not really a recruiting calendar,” said Bonomo while at the airport early Monday on his way back to Green Bay. “So, it’s all the time. This was already booked. We had to change a bunch of flights and stuff, and I wanted to get here just for the day. It’s a three-day event.
“We have got some really great players from this event. We won, so it was like, might as well go for a quick day.”
It was a hectic weekend for Bonomo, but it could not have been more rewarding.
He has been the leader of the Phoenix since taking over for Marc Baumbach a few days after Christmas in 2014.
UWGB made the conference tournament in his second season, the first time in five years it qualified. It made it again each year for the next three seasons.
Bonomo led the Phoenix to a Horizon League regular-season championship in 2017, but there hasn’t been anything quite like this season.
In an era when teams often lose players to the transfer portal, UWGB was able to keep a young team intact that went 6-3-7 in 2022.
Another year of experience translated into an even higher level of play.
“They stuck together (in the offseason), and then this year was great,” Bonomo said. “We had a couple bumps, we had some card issues where guys were sitting out. That was kind of delaying our rhythm in September, and then this thing came together. Top to bottom, very good team. Very good roster.”
Phoenix is riding a six-game winning streak
UWGB is 10-3-5 and riding a six-game winning streak into the NCAAs, the first time since 2011 it has won 10 or more games in a season.
It was the No. 2 seed in the Horizon tournament and upset No. 1 seed Oakland 1-0 on the Golden Grizzles’ home field in Rochester, Michigan, in the championship game.
It was just the second time UWGB has won at Oakland and the first time since 1978.
The Phoenix has won six games this season by one goal, consistently finding a path to victory during contests with the smallest margin for error.
It has won four games during its winning streak by a single goal, including each of the last two in the tournament after beating IUPUI 2-1 in a semifinal.
“That’s the difference. You have to be able to grind out the close games,” Bonomo said. “Last year, a lot of these wins were ties. … Guys understanding that you can’t always win with flash. We always say you can’t always win in the classy way. You have to be able to grind out wins, especially in the playoffs. That’s what these guys have kind of adjusted and understand now.”
It helps to have, as Bonomo said, a good roster.
UWGB has Horizon League’s best players on defense
UWGB’s defense boasts two of the best in the Horizon.
Junior goaltender Tobias Jahn was goalkeeper of the year for the second straight season after leading the league in allowing just .879 goals per game.
Senior defender Hesron Barry was named the Horizon’s defensive player of the year for the second straight season.
Sophomore forward Chris Album was a first-team all-conference pick. His hat trick in a win over Southern Indiana in September was the first for the program since former Green Bay Preble star Audi Jepson accomplished the feat against Viterbo in 2014.
Another standout sophomore, Tommy Coughlin, was a second-team selection as one of the leaders of UWGB’s midfield.
That type of talent and the success it’s helping bring the Phoenix could end up being significant in an even bigger way in future years.
One thing the quartet has in common is that none are from Wisconsin.
Jahn is from Owen, Germany, and landed with the Phoenix during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the coaching staff never getting an opportunity to recruit him in person but trusting what they saw on film.
Barry is from Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Album is from Vancouver, British Columbia. Coughlin arrived from Crystal Lake, Illinois.
Only three players on the roster are from the state, including former Kimberly midfielder-defenseman Oscar Arroyo.
UWGB will get another next season when Preble star defender Gavin Urben joins the program.
Urben will be the first player from Green Bay on the roster since Jepson and former Preble midfielder Antonio DeCastro in 2017.
“We don’t have a problem recruiting, because it’s one of our strengths as a staff,” Bonomo said. “The problem we have is recruiting in-state. Everybody wants to go to the big schools. Hopefully, this opens up some guys’ eyes and says, ‘Hey, why would I have to look here and look here, when the best team in Wisconsin is right in Green Bay?’”
UWGB will face Western Michigan in NCAA tournament
The hopeful best team in Wisconsin now is preparing to make some noise on the big stage.
UWGB will play at Western Michigan at noon Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
The Phoenix leads the all-time series 21-6-2, although it has lost the last five meetings.
It’s just the third time UWGB has made the tournament as a DI program and the first since 2009.
The Phoenix is 0-for-2 in its attempts to win an NCAA game, but it’s not satisfied reaching this point.
Bonomo started rattling off teams from the Horizon in recent years that have done some damage in the NCAAs, including Wright State beating Notre Dame in the first round in 2019.
Why can’t UWGB be next?
“It’s doable, and that’s what we are going to be telling our guys,” Bonomo said. “We are not here to reflect yet. You can reflect in a few weeks.”