Senior defender Sage Gardner (5) heads the ball during a match against Northwestern Oct. 20 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The teams tied, 0-0.Credit: Eric Seger / Sports editorOhio State captain, Columbus Crew Soccer Academy captain, Worthington Kilbourne captain. Each experience for Sage Gardner has helped him progress as the leader he is today.Gardner, a senior defender for the men’s soccer team, has been a captain for the last two seasons. He said learning by example is what taught him the most.“Freshman year coming in I saw (former Buckeyes) Matt Gold, Konrad (Warzycha), and (Sam) Scales lead a successful team that went to the sweet sixteen,” Gardner said.Gardner attributed much of his growing up to the fact that he was one of three team captains last season. His ability to watch and learn helped developed his leadership.“Last year I got a learning experience being a tri-captain with two other seniors (Chris Gomez and Austin McAnena),” Gardner said. “I got to lead by example but it wasn’t necessarily my captaincy. I got to learn with the other two captains and it just evolved from there. Each year, I’ve progressed as a leader.”Gardner’s definition of leadership is geared toward inspiring his fellow teammates to achieve success.“I strive to come here and really gear myself towards the next level. Even if that doesn’t happen, I think that helps portray that I’m serious, but I also have fun while playing,” Gardner said. “Just showing a lot of confidence and passion, that’ll trickle down to everybody else.”Coach John Bluem noted Gardner has the qualities to be a good leader and has done well at it.“There is nobody on the team that works harder at his game, tries to get better every day and is consistent in his performance,” Bluem said. “Those traits and qualities are good in a leader.”Gardner was a four year letter winner in high school at Worthington Kilbourne, as well as captain his senior season. He also was captain of his U-18, U-19 and U-20 teams for the Columbus Crew Soccer Academy. He led his academy teams to the playoffs each year and to back to back national championships in his U-19 and U-20 seasons.Gardner said there is no difference between each level’s captaincy and the job does not change.“I would say it’s pretty much the same, same responsibilities,” Gardner said. “I’d say this (season) is a little different because it’s a more adverse situation in terms of our record (2-6-5, 0-2-2).”Bluem said he has noticed Gardner’s progression as a leader.“A year ago, he was a leader on the team, but only through his work,” Bluem said. “He’s been a very steady, calm influence on the team this year. He leads by example certainly more than anything else.”Redshirt-senior defender Ben Killian attributes Gardner’s leadership skills to his passion, ability to care for individuals and his communication.“His passion for the game shows he is always trying to get better,” Killian said. “He cares about each individual on the team – I think that’s huge. It’s easy to over look younger guys on the team, and he does a really good job of talking with them and communicating.”Killian said Gardner’s leadership carries off the field as well.“He communicates with everyone. He talks with you not just about soccer,” Killian said. “If you have any issues, he’s easy to approach and he’ll give you some good advice.”Gardner has started all 71 games of his Ohio State career. In his collegiate career, he has tallied three goals and two assists. He has also been a part of 22 shutouts thus far.One word came to mind when Bluem and Killian spoke about Gardner’s soccer abilities: “consistency.”“He plays hard every single game, trains hard every single practice and he is an intelligent player,” Bluem said.Killian agreed.“It is hard to be consistent at this level, especially since he’s been starting since he was a freshman,” Killian said.Gardner is a finance major, but hopes to continue his soccer career into major league play.OSU has four regular season games remaining until the Big Ten tournament begins in Columbus. The Buckeyes are slated to play Oakland Wednesday at 7 p.m.