Most memorable moments for soccer players happen on the pitch - a late winner, a clinching penalty kick or a late game-saving tackle in the box.
But for Villanova’s men’s soccer players, a moment that defined last season was the one when they learned, via internet stream, they had received an at large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
“It was something special,” sophomore defender Shane Bradley, of Havertown, said of the celebratory moment.
What made the news an especially big deal for this group was that it was the first ever for the program. The euphoria though didn’t last long as the team came up empty-handed on a first round visit to Adam Najem’s Akron Zips.
“We’re not content with that,” Shane’s twin brother Conor Bradley said. “Losing in the first round isn’t good enough.”
Now, a season later head coach Tom Carlin has the Bradleys and nearly all of his starters back for a chance to prove last season’s early exit was just the beginning of an upward trajectory for the program.
“I definitely think it was a monkey off the back type of thing,” Carlin said.
Just three regular contributors from that team have departed - Padraic McCullough and John Jlopleh to graduation, Eric McKenna as a graduate transfer to Stony Brook for his final year of eligibility.
Back is a talented core led by midfielders Andreas Bartosinski, Miguel Polley and Zach Zandi. Fifth-year goalkeeper Will Steiner will lead things from the back with a more experienced back line in front of him this year after three of the four regulars last year were freshmen.
Shane Bradley, a Philadelphia Union Academy grad who was named second team all-conference last year, will again anchor the defense with classmates Nikkye DePoint and New York Red Bulls Academy alum Sean Teixeira while senior Christopher Bared and younger depth options will fill out the defense.
The front line attack will be led by fifth-year forward Max Kroschwitz, who was injured all of last season, along with California imports Lucas Hodges and Jared Anderson. Hodges, a senior, tied for the team lead in goals with six last season while Anderson was tied for second with four as a freshman.
Kroschwitz, of Pipersville, had 10 goals and 8 assists through his first three seasons. After returning to the field for the last two games of the spring exhibition season, Kroschwitz spent time over the summer playing in the NPSL for West Chester United, scoring a goal.
“Last year was exciting to watch,” Kroschwitz. “I wanted to be out there playing but it was a great year I’m just looking to build on.”
Other key players will be the versatile Conor Bradley and a cast of newcomers that includes Pitt transfer Luca Mellor, German midfielder Yusuf Cueceoglu, midfielder Theo Quartey, backup goalkeeper Carson Williams, defender/midfielder Tommy Nealon, forward Vince Manzo and locals David Bettenhausen, Max Zandi and Richie Schlentz.
“We have some depth this year,” Carlin said. “We feel fortunate to have the amount of talent that we have.”
Another key addition off the field is former Philadelphia Union fitness coach Kevin Miller, who is contracted with the men’s and women’s teams at Villanova for the season. Carlin hopes Miller’s work with the players will help cut down on some of the injuries that have plagued the team in the past.
While preseason training officially opened a couple weeks ago, Nova received a boost in preparations for the season with a 10-day trip to Europe back in June with the full squad - thanks to a new ruling by NCAA to allow incoming freshmen to attend. While abroad the team played games in Germany, Austria and Spain.
“We really got a jumpstart on how we wanted to scheme things,” Carlin said.
The Wildcats open their season on the road Friday night in Charlottesville against the University of Virginia and open their home slate next Tuesday against Temple at 4 p.m.