Men’s lacrosse finds success during transition

Jon Albert

 For those who are not fans of college lacrosse, the formation of a new men’s lacrosse conference may not exactly qualify as something to get excited about. But when that newly-formed conference carries the Big East name, people start to take notice. The men’s lacrosse team is one of the inaugural members of the Big East conference, and is currently undergoing a transition from the conference which they won last season, the Colonial Athletic Association, to the more competitive Big East. The change in conferences means that changes are being implemented throughout the athletic department, and specifically to the lacrosse program. If one were to look for a stretch of the season to epitomize the men’s lacrosse team’s journey this year, then look no further than March 24 to April 3. 

March 24: Villanova 10, Drexel 8


Led by senior midfielder Paul Webber’s four goals, the Wildcats were able to withstand a furious Drexel rally to hang on to a 10-8 victory. The victory over the No. 11 Dragons would be the last of the former CAA opponents that the team would face in their inaugural Big East schedule, and Drexel would hardly be considered a push-over in any league. 

Assistant Coach Simon Connor played for Villanova while the ‘Cats were in the CAA and knows how good a league Villanova has left behind. 

“We had some great rivalries in the CAA,” Connor said. “The talent is as good as it gets. From top to bottom, it may have more parity than any league in the country.” But anyone familiar with Villanova athletics understands that, with the exception of football, the  university has an exclusive relationship with the Big East Conference. Athletic Director Vince Nicastro noted this as one of the key reasons why the program made the move to the Big East. 

“You need six members for a conference,” Nicastro said. “If the Big East sponsors a sport that we play, we want to be in the Big East.” 


March 29: Syracuse 20, Villanova 6

If one could define the team’s effort against Syracuse in a couple of words, “growing pains” would be appropriate. Despite taking an early lead, the Wildcats were blown out in their first ever Big East contest and were not able to stop the potent Orange offense. Webber tried to diagnose the reasons for the lopsided loss. 

“We are a very young team,” he said. “We did not play with the same confidence we had been playing with all season, and Syracuse took advantage of it.” Youth is certainly a factor this season. Twenty-one of the 36 players currently on the active roster are underclassmen, and 11 are freshmen. And while Villanova has been able to obtain top lacrosse recruits from the Mid-Atlantic region, the team has been competing without University-funded scholarships. This puts the team at a competitive disadvantage, making their recent success, including last year’s CAA championship and NCAA Tournament berth even more impressive.

Now that the team has joined the Big East, there are certain guidelines that the program must follow. They must have at least one full-time coach, and current Head Coach Michael Corrado will fill that role. The team must also fulfill certain scholarship mandates, namely giving 6.3 full scholarships by 2012 and 12.6 full scholarships by 2013. 

“We’re going to shift some of our current resources in athletics to lacrosse because it is taking on a much higher profile for us,” Nicastro explained. “We’ve also embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign to engage donors to raise money for endowments.”


April 3: Villanova 9, Notre Dame 8

Saturday’s victory over the Fighting Irish can only be described as breathtaking. After squandering a two-goal fourth quarter lead by giving up five straight goals to the Irish, the Wildcats responded by scoring four goals in two minutes; with two from Webber, the ‘Cats emerged victorious in a come-from-behind effort. 

“We knew it was a make it or break it game,” Webber said. “It seems that the team has a new found energy to play in the Big East.” 

After finding themselves down three goals in a matter of minutes, the team dug deep and wouldn’t let the game slip away. 

“They caught us on a couple loose balls,” Connor said. “But give our seniors credit, because the seniors are the guys that have to win those kinds of games, and Webber and [senior Mike] Scioscia really stepped up big.” 

The win may perhaps be the impetus for a successful run into Big East play. The ‘Cats are a force at home, having won nine straight games dating back to last March and are starting to gain the support of the greater Main Line community; nearly 1,300 fans attended Saturday’s win over Notre Dame, a season-high in attendance. That number, coupled with this season’s introduction of paid admission at Villanova Stadium, shows the passion that the Villanova community is starting to show for the team. 

“There is a very strong lacrosse community in this area,” Nicastro said. “We’re charging on the lower end of what most schools have for their admission prices. It’s going to be a great value for the high level that the team is playing at.”


Looking Ahead, Setting Goals


Sophomore Kevin Cunningham, the ‘Cats’ leading point scorer, wants to win a second conference championship in two years. 

“I think a championship is reachable,” Cunningham said. “Even though we are a young team, we still have a great amount of talent.” 

Connor agrees. 

“We just have to take it one game a time,” he said. “We’re playing opponents we’ve never seen before, and every game will be a challenge.” 

This much is certainly true:  The team certainly has the talent to make it. The team is currently ranked No. 13 in the nation and is on track to secure an at-large NCAA tournament bid. 

On an individual level, Cunningham is one of the conference’s leaders in points, and senior Bryan McCartney is, in Webber’s words, “the best close defenseman in Division I lacrosse.” Webber likes the team’s chances in the Big East.

“Early on, we were a little unsure of our roles, and now we are coming together as a team,” Webber said. “Our last four games were against four Top 15 teams, and it was a real test for our team. I think we did extremely well for a young team.”