Aug. 12, 2013
By Mike Sheridan
Villanova Media Relations
When the Villanova Wildcats bowed out of the BIG EAST Championship on a crisp fall afternoon at Morrone Field to the University of Connecticut in a 1-0 match last November, they were a confident, senior dominated squad that had tied a program record with 12 victories.
That a new day has dawned is a matter of fact. Eight seniors, including accomplished four-year starters Kyle Soroka, Kyle McCarthy, Emerson Lawrence and Ryan Whalen, have graduated. John Fogarty, who backstopped three postseason victories in goal over the last two seasons and started every contest VU played in that stretch, has completed his college career after returning as a post-graduate in 2012.
As the squad convenes this week for training ahead of the 2013 season, though, there is opportunity aplenty for an athletic group that may feature the deepest well of roster talent since Carlin assumed the head coaching position in 2008.
The transition to the new day began months ago.
"Last spring was a proving ground for a lot of our young guys," stated Carlin. "We lost a lot of leadership and they were guys who logged a lot of minutes. It really was much needed experience for guys who haven't had much of it. We went through it and we built relationships and gained some experience from it. Now we see where it takes us in the fall season.
"When I look at where we are entering camp, I see a lot of maturation and development."
The progress made over the first five years of Carlin's tenure has been gradual and steady. It moved another step forward in 2012 as the `Cats posted a 12-6-2 overall mark and recorded another first by claiming their initial home playoff victory, a 3-1 verdict over Seton Hall in the opening round of the BIG EAST Championship. Villanova advanced a few more notches up the ladder in its national RPI ranking as well.
There is, though, one void left on an impressive resume and it looms large as the Wildcats ponder a new campaign.
"I think in each of the last five seasons we have accomplished more than we did the previous year," notes Carlin. "There's only one more thing left for us to do as a program and that's reach the NCAA Tournament. Whether it happens this year or after that, our next step is to reach the NCAA Tournament."
Not only will the makeup of the Wildcats be different in 2013 but so too will their league. The new BIG EAST promises to be a formidable heir to its powerful soccer past boasting such stalwarts as 2012 College Cup finalist Georgetown, College Cup semi-finalist Creighton, perennial national threat St. John's, as well as a Marquette squad which charged to the NCAA Tournament with 16 wins a season ago.
"The conference is legit," says Carlin. "The good thing for us is that the schools in this league are schools that we identify with as a university. I think that will help in our approach as a men's soccer program."
If last spring's season was a proving ground, the two-plus weeks of training ahead of the season opener at New Mexico on Aug. 30 figure to be a final exam of sorts as the coaching staff - which includes two new assistants, associate head coach Zach Thornton and McCarthy - assesses the gains made since spring.
"We've got a lot to figure out in a short amount of time," Carlin notes.
The Wildcats figure to rely heavily on a group of tested upperclassmen, led by seniors Dylan Renna and Daniel Gonzalez along with juniors Oscar Umar (a third team All-BIG EAST selection last season), Aaron Dennis and Hayden Harr. Sean Sheridan, who earned BIG EAST All-Rookie honors last season, also will play a large role as will sophomore Liam Callahan, who was a starter before a knee injury ended his rookie season after just three regular season games.
There is also a contingent of returnees in back Colton Bryant, midfielder/back Matt Wiltse, midfielders Kye West, Damilola Adetola and Adetomiwa Adewole and goalkeeper Andrew Weakly who will bid to expand their roles after seeing spot duty previously.
There is also a gifted crop of newcomers that features two tested sophomore transfers in Michael Manta (Lehigh) and Chris Hill (Richmond) on hand. This crop also offers freshman forwards Max Kroschwitz, Padraic McCullaugh and John Jlopleh as well as backs Willis Griffith and Eric McKenna and goalkeeper Will Steiner so it's clear that there is no shortage of intriguing candidates who will battle to carve a lineup niche.
Exactly how these athletes will be deployed is one of the key matters to be settled. There are multiple players capable of performing in a variety of roles and part of the challenge of camp is going to involve which pieces fit best in what spots.
"One of the benefits of the last two years was that we knew exactly what we had going into the season," says Carlin. "For the most part, we had 85 percent of the lineup already done when we started camp. This year we have 15 percent of the lineup figured out.
"If the spring was a proving ground over five months, this is a proving ground over two weeks. There are a lot of guys that can play themselves into positions early on. I think this is something that will go on all season. I don't necessarily think this team is going to find its real niche or fully hit its stride until the middle of the year. But I feel we're good enough to keep ourselves in the mix early on."
The Wildcats will open the home portion of their schedule on Sept. 3 at the West Campus Soccer Complex against Hartford and have another home date later that week against Marist (Sept. 7 at 1:00 p.m.).