Men’s Soccer Prepares for Big East Play With 3-0 Win Over NJIT


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Anthony Cousins (above) was among the Wildcats defenders that helped secure the shutout.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

Villanova Wildcats men’s soccer defeated the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders, 3-0, sparked by a quick brace from sophomore forward Balthi Saunders. Saunders scored goals in the 16th and 18th minutes. His effort was supported by a goal from Viktor Benediktsson in the 48th minute. The win improves the ‘Cats to 2-2-1 on the campaign.

The Wildcats were outshot by the Highlanders 21-14, with the Highlanders also owning the advantage in shots on goal, 7-5. Graduate keeper Kent Dickey made seven saves on the day to maintain a clean sheet for his defense. 

“You always want to protect your home,” Dickey said postgame. “We play on this field more than anybody, so we want to keep more shutouts than everyone here. That’s our goal.” 

The ‘Cats got off to a bit of a slow start, with the midfield turning the ball over a few times in the early stages of the game. Those turnovers led to a sustained period of Highlander chances, but none that were too dangerous for Dickey and the defense. 

“I thought overall we were a little sluggish, a little slow shifting and moving up and down as a group,” Villanova head coach Tom Carlin said. “But [Dickey] came up and made a few big saves which helped us.”

The momentum of the game changed significantly in the 16th when Saunders notched his first scoring tally of the season. Saunders received the ball at the top of the 18-yard box, and sent a strike past the outstretched keeper into the bottom right corner to put Villanova ahead, 1-0. Sophomore forward Vincent Petrera fed the ball in, giving him the first assist of his collegiate career. 

Minutes later in the 18th, Saunders pressured the Highlanders keeper into making a mistake as he was trying to feed the ball out to his defense. Saunders collected the ball in the 18-yard box and calmly slotted one home. 

“I thought [Saunders] did a good job at making something out of nothing,” Carlin said.  “He got his confidence going on the attacking end. It’s so important going into conference play. Goal scorers are kind of streaky like that, so it’s important for him to get going and feel good about himself so he can take it forward into Providence.”

The Wildcats were able to add a third shortly after the second half got underway, as senior defender Anthony Cousins Jr. was able to find Benediktsson in the danger area, giving Benediktsson the opportunity to take a volley into the back of the net. The goal is the first in the defender’s collegiate career.

From there on out, the Wildcats shifted their efforts to the defensive third, as they sustained 15 shots from the Highlanders in the second half. The ‘Cats were able to see it through to the final whistle without giving up a goal. 

The Wildcats begin Big East conference play on Saturday at 1 P.M., as they are scheduled to take on the Providence Friars. The Friars were voted Big East Conference favorites in the Conference’s Preseason Poll, but currently sit with the same record as the ‘Cats, 2-2-1. 

“We had a bad taste in our mouth after Yale,” Carlin said. “So just getting a little mojo, getting a little momentum, confidence going into the game.”

As for how the team’s preparing for Providence, Dickey says the mentality is the same.

“This game is definitely a tune-up,” Dickey said. “I think we’re going to prepare like we always do, we approach every match trying to win, and this Providence game is no different.”