Women’s soccer learns from non-conference play difficulties



MaryMichael Hough

Courtesy of Villanova University

Not many people would be able to draw a parallel between golf and soccer. Women’s head soccer coach Fran Kulas, however, did just this when he presented his team with golf balls and a history lesson at a meeting on Monday. 

According to Kulas, the golf ball’s early designs featured a perfectly smooth sphere. Later, people discovered that the more their ball was used and damaged, the more successful it became. It traveled farther and in a more consistent path.

Like a golf ball, the Wildcats have been knocked and dented many times this season. An early lead against Saint Joseph’s turned into a disappointing 3-2 loss in overtime last Friday. But the most recent scratch came on Sunday afternoon when the team fell to Lehigh, 2-0, at the Higgins Soccer Complex. This marked the Wildcats sixth straight loss and fifth scoreless game of the season.

Despite these recent defeats, the team remains positive and, according to Kulas, continues to increase their quality of play with each game.

“The quality of play [against Lehigh] was great and the standard was good, but it’s just the finishing where we let down,” Kulas said. 

The Wildcat offense started the game strong, forcing freshman Lehigh goalkeeper Sam Miller to make four saves in the first 22 minutes of the game. But the team struggled to find the back of the net with 18 shots, nine of which were on goal. However, a career-high nine saves from  Miller helped the Mountain Hawks to their sixth straight shutout this season.

A deflected penalty kick allowed junior Adrian Vitello a second chance to sink Lehigh’s first goal in the 30th minute and sent the Wildcats into halftime down 1-0.

“[Miller] made some good saves, but we didn’t make it as difficult on her as we could have,” Kulas said. “So, we were trying to become more dangerous in the second half by attacking a little bit differently.”

With six minutes left in the game and the team still down by one, Kulas converted from a four back, three mid, three forward to a three back, three mid, four forward to maximize scoring opportunities. This adjustment allowed the Mountain Hawks space to secure their victory when freshman Maggie Wadsworth broke away from her defender and sunk a high right corner shot with just over a minute left in the game.

“Life is about making the most of your opportunities,” Kulas said. “Within a soccer game you have opportunities to make the most of, and then, in a season, each game is a new opportunity. Lehigh was extremely opportunistic.”

Freshman Ida DiClemente, who was awarded “Big East Freshman of the Week” at the end of August, continues to lead the team on offense with three goals this season, averaging .824 percent  shots on goal. DiClemente led the team with four shots on goal, followed by two from sophomore Noa Kopplin.

“It’s obviously frustrating, because we couldn’t score, but I think that [Sunday] we played better than we ever have, and we connected so well,” DiClemente said. “Now we just need to work on that final piece, which is finishing; making sure that every time we’re in front of the goal it is a goal and it’s in the back of the net.”

This strengthening of connections and overall improvement in their quality of play allows both Kulas and the team to remain optimistic about the rest of the season. Villanova has the third most difficult non-conference schedule of the Big East, and Kulas states that the team’s approach is to use all of the lessons they’re learning in these games to help them in conference play.

“If we’re going to say that you’re going to have a losing record in non-conference play but it’s all worth it because you’re going to go on and do well in the Big East and get in the Big East tournament, would you take that?” Kulas said. “I think that most everybody will say ‘yeah, we’ll take that,’ because it’s really about the whole journey.”

The Wildcats continue non-conference play at LaSalle Thursday for a chance to end their losing streak. According to Kulas, the team will have to be more clinical in front of the goal in order to be successful against the well-coached and physical LaSalle. DiClemente believes that the team’s frustration with the results of the last two games is the biggest motivation going into future matches.

“We’re coming into this week looking to change, and it’s our time now,” DiClemente said. “We’ve built up to it, and we’ve played really well and now we’re going to get the goals and win games.”

Kulas shares this confidence going forward as long as the team remembers two things—its biggest obstacle is itself and always keeps in mind his small lesson about the simple history of a golf ball. 

“If we show up and play with consistency and play to our standard, then I think we can beat anybody,” Kulas said. “The point is, we, our team, have a lot of dents from this season, but like a golf ball soars higher with more dents, we will eventually do the same.”