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Wildcats Coming Off Breaktrough Season

September 1, 1998

The 1997 season was a breakthrough year for the Villanova men's soccer team, as the Wildcats made the Big East Tournament for the first time since 1993. Despite losing five key seniors to graduation after last season, a great deal of talent remains for the 'Cats, who will once again look to make a run at the Big East Conference elite.

In his seventh season at the helm of the Villanova soccer team in 1997, head coach Larry Sullivan posted his 50th career victory and led the Wildcats to a 4-4-3 Big East record, good enough for a sixth-place conference finish. Turning the heads of their conference opponents, Villanova was nearly unbeatable at home, compiling a 3-1-1 mark. The Wildcats were also road warriors away from home, as they fought out a 1-1 tie at Rutgers against the No. 10 nationally ranked Scarlet Knights, as well as rallying for a 2-1 victory against the Pirates of Seton Hall.

In 1998, however, Villanova will have to make up for several key losses on both offense and defense. At forward, the Wildcats lose an athletic, crafty playmaker in James Corcoran. It will be up to last year's leading scorer, Donovan Hornsby, to pick up even more of the scoring load in Corcoran's absence. A junior who transferred to the Main Line from South Carolina Spartanburg, Hornsby compiled 13 points last season, on five goals and three assists.

Alongside Hornsby at forward are fellow juniors Dave Francalangia, David Bradford and Tom DiGiulio. Last season, Francalangia was a key offensive force off the Villanova bench, tallying seven points on three goals and one assist. Twice he came off the sidelines to lead the Wildcats to victory with game-winning goals against Seton Hall and Providence. Bradford and DiGiulio both saw time at forward one year ago, but will be expected to take on expanded roles in 1998. Villanova will also have two new faces up front, with freshmen Tony Rod, from North Catholic High School in Philadelphia and Matthew Sirolli from Abington High in Glenside, Pa., looking to make an immediate impact.

The Wildcats will also have two freshmen at the striker position, looking to add a scoring punch to an offense that scored just over one goal a game last season. Michael Musial from St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia, and Koji Hamada from Radnor High School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., will bring speed and goal scoring ability to what looks to be a potentially potent Villanova offense.

The midfield will once again be led by the team catalyst, junior co-captain Conor Porter. A native of Donegal, Ireland, Porter is the glue that holds the Wildcat offense and defense together. Last season, he scored one goal and added one assist for three points, but it is his ball movement and defensive presence that make him irreplaceable. Joining Porter in the middle is senior co-captain Lewis Domke and sophomore Joe Noonan. With a breakthrough game against Rutgers, as he shut down the Scarlet Knight's main offensive force, Domke quickly became a key component in the Wildcat midfield. Noonan is coming off a outstanding freshman season, in which his presence and hard-nosed play gave the Villanova midfield and defense a tremendous toughness.

The Wildcat midfield will have outstanding depth, with junior Brian Williams returning from an injury that kept him out the greater part of the 1997 season. A group of four sophomores is also coming back with a year of experience now under its belt. This group of sophomores includes Chris McKenna, Carmen DeGisi, Ara Eskandarian and Tim DiGiulio. Freshman Brian Ahern from Edmund Burke High School in Washington, D.C., will also look to contribute in 1998.

The Wildcats return the entire defense that held opponents to under one goal per game last season. This defense will be anchored by senior co-captain Brian Conolly and sophomore Jim Curtin. Conolly was named to the Philadelphia Soccer Seven All-Star Team last year for the second consecutive season. Curtin made an immediate impact the minute he stepped foot on the Main Line, as he was named the Big East Conference Rookie-of-the-Year. In addition to playing the midfield, Noonan will also see a great deal of time on defense next to Conolly and Curtin.

Three other returnees adding strength to the Villanova defense are juniors Greg Kullberg and John Linsenmeyer, and sophomore Dan Mullen. They, along with freshmen John Kelcher from Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., and Chris Patrick from Loyola High in Jarrettsville, Md., will give Sullivan and the Wildcats several more options at the back position. In goal Villanova will have to make up the most ground, losing Matthew Westfall to graduation. Westfall had one of the best all-around seasons ever by a Wildcat goaltender in 1997, posting a 91.7 save percentage and allowing 0.62 goals per game for Big East contests. He also tallied a .885 save percentage and 0.91 goals against average for overall games. Villanova may just have found an answer, however, in Northeastern Illinois transfer Matt Malek. Malek, a junior, led the nation in save percentage last season for the Golden Eagles.

Backing up Malek in net will be sophomore J.D. Allen and freshman Douglas Szukics from East Brunswick High School in New Jersey. Allen played in three games last season behind Westfall, starting in two of those. In 187 minutes, he compiled a .620 save percentage and allowed 2.40 goals per game.

With a strong nucleus returning from last season's Big East Tournament squad, the Villanova soccer team should once again make a run at conference post-season play. How far the Wildcats can and will go, however, will depend on how quickly the team's youth adjusts to a greater role and how fast the newcomers adapt to playing soccer on the next level. Under the leadership of head coach Larry Sullivan and co-captains Conor Porter, Brian Conolly and Lew Domke, the prospects look bright.