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After a couple of early challenges, the Madison West soccer program has blossomed into one of the state’s top programs to watch in the postseason.

Ranked fourth in Division 1, the Regents head into the WIAA playoffs with a No. 2 seeding and are slotted to open WIAA regional play with a 7 p.m. Tuesday game against Watertown at Madison Area Technical College’s Goodman Sports Complex.

Coach Patrick Bauch, in his first season as head coach after previously serving as an assistant for both the boys and girls teams, had a number of goals for his team going into the season.

One of them was to compete for the Big Eight Conference championship, which ultimately went to third ranked Verona (now 13-1-2). Competing for a state tournament berth was another goal, and that path begins on Tuesday.

“Verona was the clear No. 1. They had a phenomenal year,” Bauch said of the conference race. “I’m pretty happy and proud of the guys for finishing second in a tough conference.”

“We weren’t able to (win the conference), but that doesn’t mean we are going to go into the playoffs with our heads down,” said West senior captain Tonio Ermakoff.

The season has been a story of resilience and bouncing back from defeat. West started the season 1-2-1, but went on to win or tie almost every remaining game — with the only exceptions being their matchup against conference champion Verona and Madison Memorial.

Bauch has leaned on senior leaders such as Ermakoff and goalkeeper Oscar Herrera to lead the team through change and adversity.

Ermakoff is the team’s leading scorer, with nine goals on the season and a first team all-conference pick.

“He’s the guy you have to drag off the practice field when it’s time go home,” Bauch said of Ermakoff. “He’s probably the most passionate soccer brain, he always wants to be involved in the game, and his teammates would say he’s the guy they trust in big moments.”

Ermakoff has been a member of the varsity squad for four years and a starter for three, a run which Bauch notes “is a very tough thing to do here at West.”

Ermakoff was quick to give his teammates credit when asked about his personal success. “My personal success comes from the trust my teammates have in me. They are a very talented squad and they realize we work best together,” he said. “My team trusts me with the ball and it allows me to provide for my team.”

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At the beginning of the season, Herrera won a tough competition with junior Johannes Berghahn for the starting goalkeeper job. His play during the season has proven Bauch’s decision to be a good one.

“Oscar has been consistent throughout the entire season and has saved us from a lot of disasters,” Ermakoff said. “Our team really owes him a lot.”

Herrera (goalkeeper), Ermakoff (midfielder) and senior Peter Kraus (defender) were first-team selections on the all-conference team. Verona senior midfielder Eliot Popkewitz was the conference player of the year. 

When two players compete for one spot, it can put stress on the team’s morale. But Bauch said the goalkeeper competition did just the opposite.

“Both (are) elite goalies, (and) the competition to win the starting job had been pretty impressive,” Bauch said. “They collaborate so well together and they have such a good mentality together, they are all positive.”

“The goalkeepers have built a bond and we’ve become brothers,” said Herrera, who allows an average of 1.04 goals against per game. He credits his personal success to the support of Berghahn and goalkeepers coach Sagan Pizzingrilli.

“it’s great having a goalkeeper coach,” Herrera said. “She gives us lots of repetition, even after hard game days, even after I’m beat out. She takes what I did wrong and implements it during training.”

Herrera and Ermakoff said their coaches tackled the difficult task of changing the mentality of the squad.

“Coach is really attentive to our needs and what we feel the style of team is best,” Ermakoff said. “We want to trust in one another and move the ball from end of the field to the other with ease.”

Simple goals and hard work have built a state contender at West.

“We didn’t have such a great chemistry in the beginning of the season,” Herrera said. “As it went along, we started to build a good chemistry. Everyone is a team player. It’s wanting to win that makes us do better.”

Bucky!

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