By Mike Sheridan
Villanova Media Relations
To those who had been so close, the sight of “Villanova” on their flat screens or mobile devices during the NCAA Tournament Men’s Soccer Selection Show last November, evoked a range of joyful emotions.
There was excitement, of course, as the Wildcats, on the doorstep so often in recent years, finally broke through with an at-large berth to the field of 48. While team members celebrated inside the Pavilion’s Fitzgerald Lounge, alumni and friends of the program scattered around the nation and the world, enjoyed their own private moment of delight. Many took the time to text or call head coach Tom Carlin with their congratulations.
Seven months later, that pride remains palpable across the Nova Nation in spite of a 2-0 loss at the University of Akron in the NCAA Tournament.
But inside the ‘Cats West Campus locker room, explains Carlin, there is a different vibe.
“For the Villanova community, the program, our alumni, and fans, it was a big deal because it was the first time we ever accomplished it,” notes Carlin. “But as a team, we ran out of gas at the end and we know it. We lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That kind of left a bad taste in our mouth, to be honest.”
The first step in cleansing the palate is already underway. Carlin’s Wildcats are presently back on campus training in advance of a 10-day foreign exhibition trip that will take it them soccer hotbeds Spain and Germany later this month.
“The main purpose for us is to get practice opportunities in the summer,” explains Carlin, whose team will return for regular season preparation in early August.
Ten practices are permissible under NCAA bylaws prior to a foreign trip. Coupled with a handful of exhibition contests to be played while overseas (one in Spain and two in Germany), that offers programs a unique chance for a squad to get a leg up on its regular season.
“This makes it even more impactful,” adds Carlin. “We may be the only team in America training now. We get to spend about 20 days together whereas in a normal off-season the coaches aren’t permitted to work with the players.
“I think the freshmen component to this is a huge advantage. When you recruit players, you have an idea of how you think they will fit into the team. Now, we’re going to see them and understand what they are going to be able to contribute and what they may need to work on ahead of the start of preseason.”
This particular tour is owed to the generosity of former Wildcats player Sean Traynor, who attended Villanova in the early 1990s. Last week, while driving to the first team meeting for the tour, Carlin called Traynor.
“We’ll have some time for relationship building and developing the trust between the returning players and the freshmen,” Carlin said. “Having the life experience and giving our guys a chance to get to know one another better is a big part of this for us.”
Among the 2016 stalwarts ready to lead the Wildcats in 2017 are goalkeeper Will Steiner and midfielders Andreas Bartosinski (a native of Germany) and Zach Zandi. All three played pivotal roles last year in helping the Wildcats to a 10-8-3 finish that included the program’s best ever RPI finish and a trip to the BIG EAST semifinals, where they fell to Butler 1-0 in double overtime.
“I think last season provides us a little more of a sense that we can do it and it also supplies a hunger to do more,” states Carlin. “I don’t think the NCAA Selection Party will be as exciting as it was the first time. But that’s OK. As a team, we are just zeroed in on doing all of the little things so that we don’t run out of gas like we did last year.”
Carlin is very pleased with his leadership group, that also welcomes back scoring leader Miguel Polley (six goals, eight assists and 20 points in ’16); senior midfielder Lucas Hodges (six goals, three assists, 15 points a season ago); three year starter at outside back Christopher Bared; and Max Kroschwitz, a proven forward who missed all of 2016 with a knee injury after recording 12 points for the ‘Cats in 2015.
The fifth year senior Steiner merits lofty praise from his coach.
“Steiner is the best captain/leader we have had here and we’ve had some outstanding ones,” Carlin explains. “He really is standing above the rest. Andreas and Zandi are so consistent in training that they set a tone for us. Their habits and demeanor on the field sets the tone for every practice.
“The young guys have come in and made a seamless transition. The way it is now, guys commit to a program so early that it feels like they’ve already been around for a while when they get here. We’ve got a good sense of who we are right know, which is nice.”
And who will the 2017 Wildcats be when November and December arrive? The first seeds in that process are being planted now and will be further developed as the Wildcats embark on their first European sojourn.