Mani rises from reserve to captain
Every successful team needs players whose work ethic, determination and leadership make the difference in the team’s ability to grind out results, especially in a conference as competitive as the Big Ten. And for the UW men’s soccer team, that player is Colin Mani.Mani, a senior for the Badgers this year, provides far more for this team than his stats may show. In starting 12 games as a defender this season, he has played a major role in helping the Badgers earn four shutout victories thus far, a number that already brings them to one more shutout victory than they had all of last season.Still, Mani’s true worth to the team comes in his ability to lead his teammates by example.“Coming into the season, we knew that with Colin we would get determination and true bravery on the field that not all guys [have],” head coach John Trask said. “That is what you hope to get out of your seniors. … If you’re not committed into attack or winning a loose ball, heck, you’re not going to get the freshmen to do it.”Despite having not been a starter up until this year for the Badgers, Mani was a natural choice to be one of the three captains this year, along with fellow seniors Josh Thiermann and Arnel Zahirovic, due to the unrelenting effort he puts forth in every aspect of the game.“All the players, when I talked to them about naming captains for this year, had Colin Mani as an immediate name off the list,” Trask said. “Out of everybody, they respect him as an athlete; they respect the amount of work he puts in to get ready for the season, and they respect him as a person.”As a result, Mani has been vital in helping transition a young defense to the intense, competitive atmosphere that is the Big Ten conference. Out of six players that have regularly played for the defense this year, only Mani and junior Kyle McCrudden had more than one year of experience coming into the season.The younger defenders look to Mani as an example of the right way to play defense and as a model to follow as they finish their own college careers. Freshman defender AJ Cochran had nothing but praise for his senior teammate’s attitude and mindset towards every game.“He is just a straight up leader; he brings leadership to our backline, having been here for four years now,” Cochran said. “Every single game … he makes sure the rest of our backline is ready to come out to play. He brings a whole different energy level at every game, and it’s awesome to play next to him.”Mani’s ability to help guide his younger teammates through the college game has been an influential factor in the Badger’s significant improvement on the team’s 4-13-3 performance a year ago to a record of 7-5-2 overall this year.On the field, Mani brings a fairly unique background to the defense. Throughout high school, Mani played as a midfielder before switching to defense in college, and he even scored 12 goals his senior season at Edgewood, just across town in Madison.As the old sports adage goes: Sometimes offense is the best defense. This has certainly held true for the Badgers this year, as the longer they possess the ball in attack, the less chances their opponent has to score goals. Mani believes that his knowledge of the offensive side of the game has helped him to set up the forwards and midfielders with better passes this year, passes that then set the offense up for more productive possessions and ultimately more goals.“I think having those experiences as a midfielder have really helped me,” Mani said. “As a result, I am able to make the passes to my teammates that I would want if I was in their position.”Looking ahead to the final few weeks of the season, the Badgers currently hold sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings at 3-0 with three Big Ten games left to play, and with Mani anchoring the defense, the team looks poised to make a run at the Big Ten title, a title that could prove to be the perfect parting gift for the graduating senior.