Men earn first national ranking in 12 years

Dan Barone

The Villanova men’s soccer team continued its dominating play this week. Wins over Providence and No. 16 Rutgers have lifted the Wildcat’s overall record to 9-6-1 and also earned them their first national ranking in 12 years. The team is 8-3-1 over their last 12 games, and has lifted their Big East record to 4-5. With their successful season continuing, they earned the No. 25 spot in the Oct. 27 NSCAA/Adidas poll.

On Oct. 26, ‘Nova took on Providence at the West campus soccer complex. The entire game was dominated by the ‘Cats, aside from a small defensive lapse late in the second half. The Wildcats took an early 1-0 lead when Colin Raws got his own rebound and tucked it into the net in the 25th minute. Dave O’Donnell was credited with the assist on the play. The defense that has been dependable all year held the Friars offense at bay and the ‘Cats recorded a 1-0 victory.

The defensive effort was headed by the usual suspects – Pat Gallagher, Chris Edgar, Tony Watkins and Greg Winther. The effort marked the second consecutive shutout of the season, following the win against Rutgers. The shutouts were Craig Bald’s fifth and sixth this season, earning him the honors of Big East goalkeeper of the week once again.

On Oct. 22. at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights outshot the ‘Cats by a margin of 18-7, but were unable to find the net. The Wildcats were led again by seniors Raws and O’Donnell. Raws was credited with an assist when he found O’Donnell, who scored a header for the first goal in the 33rd minute. Raws then found the net himself in the second half to give the ‘Cats a 2-0 advantage. The final score was 2-0, with the ‘Cats defeating their second ranked opponent of the year.

Raws earned the honors of Big East and Soccer Seven Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. As a primarily defensive player, Raws picked up two goals and an assist over the last two games. “Raws gives us great runs up the sideline, and his speed really makes things happen,” head coach Larry Sullivan said.

At the beginning of the season, the ‘Cats were picked to finish dead last in the Big East standings. Coming off of consecutive 5-13 campaigns the previous two years, it seemed inevitable that they would finish in the cellar once again. The team, however, has just clinched its best record since 1992, and is on the brink of both the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament. Sullivan said despite the success, “missing the Big East tourney would be disappointing.” The confidence on the team is evident on and off the field. Upon the release of the rankings, Tony Watkins described the feeling as, “[A]mazing.”

“We never expected to turn things around so much this year,” he said.

With a win at No.7 Notre Dame today, the Wildcats would be assured a spot in the Big East tournament and would undoubtedly increase their national ranking, making them very attractive to the selection committee for the NCAA tournament. Even with a loss at Notre Dame, ‘Nova could sneak into the Big East tournament based on the results of other games in the conference over the next week.

The next home game will be the final regular season game, with the ‘Cats taking on Penn State at the West campus soccer complex Nov. 5 at 2 p.m.