The UW-Eau Claire men’s soccer team had to be patient. The first four games of the program’s history were played on the road, limiting the Blugolds’ opportunity to show the campus what it’s made of.
“I was waiting for this day,” freshman defenseman Evan Wilson said. “To just know fans come out here and are really going to support us because we’re doing well, it’s fun. The team’s all excited.”
The positive? The Blugolds were already well into a groove by the time Tuesday’s home opener against Northland College came around, and they showed it in a big way. UW-Eau Claire lived up to an offensive-minded philosophy that coach Casey Holm has preached in a 6-1 victory at Simpson Field. The win puts the program at 4-1 on the year.
“Scheduling-wise, no one would take us early at home,” Holm said. “This worked out well, obviously it was a game we kind of wanted to showcase everything in front of the fans. I thought we kind of settled in after the first 15, 20 minutes and put it together really well. It was nice to finally get in front of fans.”
Will Heinen became a piece of Blugold trivia when he scored the program’s first goal on home turf in the 21st minute. He completed a run to the center of the box by tapping home a pass from Carter Thiesfeld.
The goal came at a perfect time, ending a short stretch where it appeared Northland was gaining steam. And four minutes later, Wilson doubled the deficit with his first of two impressive tallies.
The Apple Valley, Minnesota, native took a free kick from about 30 yards out and perfectly placed it toward the top of the net.
“I’ve been waiting for that,” Wilson said. “I’ve been practicing from that spot right over there. It came up and my teammate was like, ‘You want to take it?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s the spot I want.’ I stepped up with confidence and I hit it.”
The Lumberjacks took advantage of a charge call in the 26th minute, notching a rebound goal by Nick Diaz 30 seconds later. But Wilson made sure the Blugolds didn’t sweat long, hammering home a shot after a handful of attempts were blocked by Northland players in the box.
The rout was on come the second half. Thiesfeld made it 4-1 in the 50th minute before Nathan Donovan closed out the scoring with a pair, finding the net in the 51st and 62nd.
It’s been a strong start to the program’s history, which began with a wild victory against Hamline in the Blugolds’ debut. UW-Eau Claire erased a 3-0 deficit, getting an equalizer with just six seconds remaining in regulation before winning on an own goal in the extra period. That set an early bar for a program that had high hopes considering the coaching staff’s success in the recruiting scene.
“It was pretty impressive,” UW-Eau Claire athletic director Dan Schumacher said a day after the opener. “I actually had a chance to stand for about three quarters of the game with the opposing AD, who I know in the business. ... I sat there very humbly with the other athletic director, and when it was 3-0, the other athletic director was like, ‘Oh, you’ve got a young team.’ That’s OK, a little patronizing doesn’t hurt. But as the game went on our conversation became shorter and shorter and shorter until he had to go see somebody, had to go talk to somebody.”
UW-Eau Claire hung with a strong Loras team in a 2-1 defeat two days later before ripping off a three-game win streak against Concordia-Moorhead, Nebraska Wesleyan and now Northland. Pretty good for a brand new squad made up of entirely underclassmen, mostly freshmen.
“It’s a shocker,” Thiesfeld said. “To take freshmen and just start beating these senior-led teams, it is just pretty amazing.”
Tuesday’s contest was the first of eight home games for the Blugolds. They return on Sept. 22 against Ripon and will also host Saint Mary’s (Sept. 25), Augsburg (Oct. 5), UW-Whitewater (Oct. 16), Finlandia (Oct. 20), Grinnell (Oct. 24) and Bethany Lutheran (Oct. 26).
The group hopes the rest of the home slate brings the same sort of fanfare.
“With the fans and everything, it was just a perfect night under the lights,” Wilson said. “It’s just all I could ask for.”
UW-Eau Claire 6, Northland College 1
NC 1 0 — 1
UWEC 3 3 — 3
Goals: 1, UW-Eau Claire, Will Heinen (Carter Thiesfeld, Evan Wilson), 21st minute; 2, UW-Eau Claire, Wilson (FK), 24th minute; 3, Northland, Nick Diaz, 26th minute; 4, UW-Eau Claire, Wilson, 32nd minute; 5, UW-Eau Claire, Thiesfeld (Hayden Boich, Wilson); 6, UW-Eau Claire, Nathan Donovan (Thiesfeld, Boich), 51st minute; 7, UW-Eau Claire, Donovan (Jakob Leonard), 62nd minute. Shots: Northland 6, UW-Eau Claire 22. Saves: Jamie Colvill (NC) 7, Spencer Banks (UWEC) 1. Records: Northland 1-3, UW-Eau Claire 4-1.