Can a New-Look ‘Nova Continue to Challenge in the Big East?

(Photo Courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

The Villanova Wildcats have been sitting right on the cusp of the big dogs within the Big East conference and on the national stage in recent years, finishing second in the Big East in 2018 and 2019, while 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.

Villanova continued that level of play this past spring, going 7-5 overall (6-4 Big East) against a conference-heavy schedule that pitted them against each conference opponent twice. In the Wildcats’ second contests against both Georgetown and Denver, they fell by just one goal. They also fell to the Hoyas by two, 14-12, in the Big East semifinals, and in their regular-season finale pulled off one of the best late-season upsets, beating an unbeaten Lehigh team, 16-8.

In 2022, Villanova will be looking to, at least stay the course, and possibly take a step forward after years of being the sure-fire third-best team in the Big East.

Villanova hasn’t had much of a problem against the likes of Marquette, Providence, and St. John’s as they have gone a combined 11-1 against those three programs since 2018, only losing to Providence in overtime, 9-8, in 2019. But they haven’t been able to take down the two giants of the Big East in Denver and Georgetown, going a combined 1-10 against the two during that same time frame.

A lot of new faces will be gracing the field at Villanova this spring with the Wildcats losing a boatload of talent from last season. But there is also a solid crop of grad transfers who will be donning the blue and white this spring and could provide a significant spark. The question is will this new-look Wildcats team be able to continue finding the success this program has in recent years or not, and could they possibly lead this program to take a step forward?

The Wildcats have to replace leading scorer Keegan Khan, who took his talents to Maryland as a grad transfer, and third-leading scorer Eric Overbay on the offensive end. They also lose their entire starting close defense of Patrick Kennedy, Owen Prybylski, who has also grad transferred to Maryland, and Zachary Krya. In addition to the losses that will lead to a new crop of playmakers breaking into the starting ranks this spring, Villanova has brought in four grad transfers in attackmen JP Basile (Duke) and Luke Keating (F&M), midfielder Brett Baskin (Johns Hopkins), and defenseman Chris Hervada (Monmouth).

Keating, Basile, and Baskin come to Villanova following successful careers at their previous stops and are expected to be impact players on this offense, and fill some of the holes left by departures. This Wildcat offense will also see a trio of impact returnees step up this spring as well with senior midfielder Matt Campbell (32G/8A), senior attackman Patrick Daly (21G/7A), and sophomore Tucker Goddelle (9G/4A), who saw five starts at attack last spring but has seen action at the midfield spot this fall, all returning.

The Wildcats went through a similar situation last spring, having to replace Connor Kirst, and still finished with a top-20 scoring offense (13.17 goals per game). They also had one of the best man-up units in the nation, finishing the season ranked fourth in DI as they cashed in on .478% of such opportunities. With the trio of returners they have, plus the three additions via the transfer portal, this offense has the potential to be a top-20 unit again this spring and could fly even higher if they can find the necessary cohesion.

On the defensive end of the field, things look even newer for this Wildcats squad with senior goalie Will Vitton and SSDM Chet Comizio as the unit’s only two major returnees. Vitton has been a full-time starter since his freshman season and has amassed 329 saves with a .506% save percentage in 31 games with 30 starts. He is coming off a junior campaign in which he made 106 saves with a 50% save percentage. Comizio (19GB/8CT) emerged as the leader of the Wildcats’ rope unit, which has consistently been one of the best in the nation over the past few seasons – especially with a strong stable of SSDMs, last season and should play a similar role in 2022.

Brody LaPorte (18GB/7CT) is the only other returner on the back end with any starting experience, making one start last season. The senior defenseman is expected to be a leader at close defense, alongside Monmouth grad transfer Chris Hervada. The two will be leading a defense that is very young with five of the 10 poles on this roster being either a freshman or sophomore and not having much game experience at all – if any. This defense has proven talent at the top, but as a whole could still be very much a work in progress this spring, especially in February and early March.

At the faceoff dot, junior Justin Coppola returns after being the Wildcats’ top option each of the past two seasons. And while he did put together a solid campaign in 2021, going 130-for-248 (.524%), he had a rough ending to the season as he went 2-for-19 against Lehigh and then went 1-for-8 against Georgetown before being pulled for now-graduated Dan Fischer. He’ll look to continue to improve as a junior this spring. Sophomore Lucas Kopecky is the only other faceoff man on the roster. He went 5-for-19 as the Wildcats’ third-string at the position last season.

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