Last year’s Badger soccer team saw some nice success, making the state tournament and picking up a win against Waukesha South.
Badger players Will Hamilton and Payton Aranda took that success and added onto it this month, winning the National Premier League championship for the 18/19U division with their club team FC Wisconsin.
While Badger saw success, after seeing some of their club teammates make deep runs into the postseason with their high school teams, it left Hamilton wanting more.
“Some of my other teammates play for Marquette and some of those other top high school teams like Arrowhead and teams like that, so seeing them being able to play for [state titles] was a little bit of a gut shot, but getting back into it with the club really helps redeem everything,” Hamilton said.
FC Wisconsin is a club soccer team that is comprised of some of the most talented players from around the state, from Milwaukee and Madison, to Green Bay and beyond.
The club aims to assemble kids that aspire to play college soccer, and developing the tools to allow them to do so. To do this, they have a large coaching staff to give in-depth help for every player.
“At every practice we have three to four coaches at all times so you can really get a one on one experience with all the coaches and you can really get a lot of feedback back right away instead of just having one coach try and figure out everybody on the team,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton has been a part of the club for six years, and he said that while new players come and go, the national championship squad had six of the same players from the team all those years ago when he first started.
Aranda has been with the club for seven years, so even before the pair suited up as Badgers for the first time three years ago, they had already been playing together for quite some time.
The quest for a title
To even qualify for the National Premier League’s championship tournament requires a long process.
Firstly, a team needs to place in the top two teams in an eight-team division, a grueling task considering every team is stacked with the best players from its respective areas.
Then, the team moves on to a regional tournament, pitting them against the top two teams from other divisions in the surrounding states, raising the competition even further. If the team is able to win its region, then it earns its shot to play in the national tournament.
This multi-stage qualifier is meant to weed out teams that are on a hot streak, and make sure that the best teams always rise to the top, according to Hamilton.
Last season, FC Milwaukee made it to regionals, but was unable to qualify for the national tournament. The near miss made the team want to make it even more this year.
“We were excited because we thought we were going to qualify for the national tournament, but we had no clue that we were going to be able to make it this far,” Hamilton said. “As the season went on, and as we kept playing with each other and growing, it just took off like ‘hey we could actually win this.’”
While Hamilton surmises that hot teams get weeded out to allow the talented teams to advance, when a talented team gets hot, sometimes that’s all it takes.
The team came in second in their division, won all three games of their regional grouping. Then they swept their way through the group play and tournament play of the national tournament, allowing only three goals along the way.
This crowning achievement came only after everyone on the team bought into a winning philosophy.
“We really made a family with it, everybody made a promise that they would give 110 percent every single day and it gradually made everyone better. None of us started off as the best of players, but slowly giving it our all at every practice and the coaches giving us their all, keep on believing in us, we just became the team we are today,” Hamilton said.
For Hamilton, his high school and club career ended on the highest of notes, but his soccer career isn’t yet at its end.
He will attend Wartburg College to play soccer for their Division III program, an actualization of the goal set by the club to help its players move on to the next level.
For Aranda, he still has some unfinished business in Lake Geneva.
The forward won Southern Lakes Conference Player of the Year honor last season, and he is hoping to improve on that this year.
How? Well, he wants to repeat as the SLC Player of the Year, but he also wants to lead the conference in both goals and assists, which he wasn’t able to do last season.
In addition, he wants to hit 100 goals for his career. With 74 currently, he’d need to net 26 goals next season, seven less than the 33 he scored last year.
While some of his goals are lofty, the experience gained by winning the national title will help carry him forward, but it won’t necessarily help the Badger team.
“It kind of boosts my ego to play my hardest and everything, and because there’s no one from Badger that was with me, so it doesn’t effect anyone else but me,” Aranda said.
With Hamilton gone, as well as All-Conference players Jack Wright, Ian Schirtzinger and Eduardo Cruz, Badger will need to rebuild its lineup to rise to the success it had last season.
Nonetheless, Aranda is hopeful.
“I feel like there’s a couple freshmen that I’ve been seeing throughout the summer, and maybe one or two sophomores, that will make a difference in our game,” Aranda said.
“I feel like we’ll still be a pretty strong team this year.”