Villanova is The Big East’s Dark Horse, Again

(Photo Courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

Since Mike Corrado took over his alma mater ahead of the 2007 season, the Villanova Wildcats have been a consistent contender in their conference, finishing in the top three almost every single season. They have also made three NCAA Tournament appearances (2009, 2011, 2018), won their conference once (2009), and since joining the Big East have made two title game appearances (2013, 2014).

In recent years, the Wildcats have been sitting right on the cusp of the big dogs in their conference and nationally, finishing second in the Big East in 2018 and 2019, upsetting Yale and giving Penn state some trouble both of those years. During the shortened 2020 season, the Wildcats went 4-3. One of their wins came against a No.4 Maryland squad and two of their losses came against Penn State, 19-10, and Yale, 18-12.

Coming into the 2021 season, the Wildcats are looking to not only climb back to the top of the Big East and make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past three full seasons but break their streak of losing in the Big East semifinals, which they have done every single full season since 2014.

And while the Wildcats do lose a huge chunk of their offense, and team in general, with Connor Kirst electing to grad transfer to Rutgers, they certainly still have enough talent returning to be viewed as a legitimate challenger and contender in the Big East, even if they might be a bit further behind Denver and Georgetown than they have been the past few seasons.

Some of the biggest impact returners for this Villanova squad lie on the defensive end of the field, where they weren’t spectacular as a team last season. The Wildcats finished the 2020 season ranked 53rd in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 13.14 goals per game. They also were also 62nd in the penalty kill (man-down). However, we could see those numbers increase significantly this coming spring.

Redshirt Senior Patrick Kennedy (33GB/15CT) is perhaps the Wildcats’ biggest returner overall. Kennedy, who has started every game of his career and missed the 2018 season with an injury, was quietly one of the best defenders in college lacrosse this season. And the jump that he made from 2019 as a redshirt sophomore to 2020 as a redshirt junior was profound. Additionally, Zachary Kryza (7GB/5CT) will be back for a fifth season and senior Owen Prybylski (13GB/7CT) looks to grow even more after being a full-time starter for the first time in 2020.

Outside of the guys they have at close defense, the Wildcats have housed one of the best SSDM units in the nation over the past few seasons. In 2020, Chet Comizio (1G/1A/14GB/4CT) looks to be the leader of that unit for a second consecutive season. After playing second fiddle to his brother, TJ Comizio, as a freshman in 2019, he thrived in that larger role last season and there is no reason why he can’t take an even bigger step forward in 2021. Amherst grad transfer Jimmy McAfee adds even more talent and depth at the SSDM spot.

In cage, junior Will Vitton (.494%) returns and should be the anchor to this defense for the third consecutive season.

While Villanova will be looking to improve in multiple areas on the back end, they will be looking to keep this offense in a similar spot or move up a bit on the offensive end. Villanova was tied for 32nd in scoring offense last season with St. John’s and Bryant, averaging 12.57 goals per game.

This will be Keegan Khan’s offense in 2021, especially with the departure of Kirst. The senior attackman was a day one starter and has been a cornerstone for this offense the past three seasons. He led the Wildcats in points with 26 (14G/12A) last season. Along with Khan, junior Patrick Daly (14G/8A) and senior Corey McManus (13G/2A) will make up the Wildcats’ starting attack line.

At the midfield spot, Junior Matt Campbell (12G/9A) and senior Colin Crowley (7G/7A) are their top two returners. Both have been essentially full-time starters for the past two seasons. Crowley, however, only played four games in 2019 before suffering a season-ending injury.

In addition to those top two guys, senior Eric Overbay (4G/4A), who saw seven starts in 2019 and one last season, should see some increased time and production. Highly-touted freshman midfielder Jack Cerza could potentially see a big chunk of playing time and be an impact player on the offensive end this spring.

Justin Coppola went 67-for-152 (.441%) at the faceoff dot last season as a freshman and looks to further improve as a sophomore. Senior Dan Fischer was their backup last season and went 11-for-34. He was their primary guy in 2018 and 2019.

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