Nova drops first Big East games

Dan Barone

In addition to dropping its first two Big East games, Villanova lost senior captain Dave O’Donnell and defensive anchor senior Chris Edgar to injuries in a physical match against West Virginia last Friday. After scoring five times in their first two games, the ‘Cats were unable to find the net over the weekend as they were shutout 1-0 by both West Virginia (Friday) and Virginia Tech (Sunday).

The Wildcats came out strong in Sunday’s match against the Hokies, sporting a new-look lineup in the absence of O’Donnell and Edgar. Senior captain Colin Raws was back in the starting lineup but was clearly not 100 percent healthy after returning from sickness and saw limited time. Edgar’s absence was clear early when Virginia Tech wasted no time getting on the scoreboard and killed Villanova’s momentum as they converted their first scoring chance when sophomore Peer Rogge put home a strong header in the ninth minute.

Villanova sophomore Pat Gallagher was determined to clamp down after the defense committed the early mistake. Gallagher was single-handedly responsible for saving three balls off the goal line through the rest of the game and kept the defense in order. “Our defense is much improved this year,” Gallagher said. “Last year we would let down after we were scored on, but we aren’t breaking down this year, it just makes us play harder.”

On the other end Chris Blatz and Jash Lopuski controlled the offense, with Lopuski making strong tackles in the midfield and Blatz creating scoring opportunities up front with his speed and quick footwork. Along with the defense tightening up, ‘Nova began to dominate offensive possession in the second half. With time running down, Gallagher headed a Lopuski corner off the post in the 88th minute. In the 90th minute, Blatz controlled a long pass and flicked it through to sophomore Charlie Rowan who blasted a shot from 18 yards out that went just wide of the net.

Time ran out on the Wildcats, and they suffered a disappointing second straight 1-0 defeat. “We created plenty of chances, but we just couldn’t finish them,” Blatz said. The consensus among the team seems to be that the defense has finally gelled, and once the offense starts producing, the team will start to win.

In Friday’s game against the Mountaineers, ‘Nova came out slow and was out shot in the first half, but gradually took control of the game. In the 36th minute of play, however, there was a daunting moment as senior captain Dave O’Donnell went to the ground holding his knee in pain. O’Donnell was carried off and would not return. ‘Nova continued to dominate, and West Virginia elevated the physicality of the game as it became more and more frustrated. Sweeper and the defensive centerpiece, Chris Edgar was involved in a collision and had to leave the game in the 63rd minute with a shoulder injury, but he did return and finished the game.

As regulation came near a close with the score still 0-0, ‘Nova bombarded the goal with numerous scoring opportunities. Gallagher headed a free kick off the crossbar in the 68th minute, Brett Stassfurth then headed a corner kick off the post in the 78th minute and freshman Felix Vincent nailed a shot off the post two minutes before the end of regulation.

Overtime saw much of the same Villanova dominance with another shot off the post struck by Tony Watkins in the first period. However, with the game still scoreless and with three minutes remaining in the second overtime period, the Mountaineers were awarded a free kick from about 20 yards out. The ball was not cleared out safely by the ‘Nova defense and it was played back into the box by West Virginia’s Bernard Oussa, and the loose ball was then knocked in by freshman Jarrod Smith.

Villanova’s head coach Larry Sullivan was disappointed in the overall performance of the team. “Some players didn’t play the game they were capable of playing,” Sullivan said. “We’re a young team and we have to get used to it”. By the end of the game, Edgar knew he wouldn’t be playing for awhile learning the result of his collision was a separated shoulder. “[I] wanted to play today, hopefully they will let me play on Friday (against Princeton),” Edgar said on Sunday. After missing Sunday’s game, O’Donnell said on Monday that his knee was “feeling much better,”; but still was wearing a brace and was scheduled to see a doctor on Tuesday. The Wildcats next take on Princeton at UPenn on Sept. 12.