Fall Snapshot: Villanova Wildcats

(Photo Courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Mike Corrado (17th season, 2007-Current)

Villanova 2022 Record: 9-6 (3-2 Big East)

Key Departures: Luke Keating (A), Brett Baskin (A/M), JP Basile (A/M)

Key Returners: Matt Campbell (M/A), Patrick Daly (A), Justin Coppola (FO), Chet Comizio (SSDM), Brody LaPorte (D), Will Vitton (G)

Transfer Additions: N/A

After multiple years of falling short in the Big East semifinals and being the consistent third-best team in the league, Villanova broke through its usual status quo last spring and took down Denver 15-14 to advance to the Big East title game for the first time since 2014. It marked the Wildcats’ first win over Denver since 2019 and first postseason win over the Pioneers in program history.

Villanova would lose in a failed comeback attempt in the Big East title game to Georgetown, closing its season with a 9-6 overall record. That record included a win over future NCAA Tournament team Delaware as well as close losses to both Yale, Brown, and Penn; each of whom made the big dance. In league play, Villanova only failed to beat one team: Georgetown.

Heading into the 2023, Villanova returns a good chunk of talent and especially so with seven players coming back for a fifth season of college lacrosse. Thus, the question becomes what does Villanova have in store next?

Burning Questions

How Much Bite Will The Wildcats Offense Have?

Villanova ended the 2022 season with the 27th-best scoring offense in DI as they averaged 13.27 goals per game. That offense was headlined, in part, by a trio of grad transfers with Luke Keating (30G/31A), Brett Baskin (34G/16A), and JP Basile (23G/18A) combining for 152 points and 87 goals. All three of those playmakers are now gone, leaving significant holes on that end. However, the Wildcats still do return some top-end offensive talent from last year’s squad.

Matt Campbell led the way for the Wildcats’ offense last season with 67 points off 45 goals and 22 assist. Seeing time at both his natural midfield position, as well as at attack, Campbell proved to be not only Villanova’s best shooter but also its most important offensive player. This offense will be built around him once again in 2023. But exactly how well will this offense be built around him and can it yield similar results as last season?

Attackman Patrick Daly (33G/6A) and midfielder Austin Fraser (4G/5A) are also back for a fifth season. Daly was a full-time starter at attack and is the only other top five returning scorer along with Campbell. Fraser played in all 15 games with nine starts at midfield. Additionally, junior midfielder Tucker Goodelle (10G/1A) is also back after starting six games as a sophomore. In short, Villanova has a very solid foundation on the offensive end in which it can build upon and progress.

Can The Faceoff Situation Continue to Trend Upwards?

This past spring, Villanova boasted a tea, faceoff win percentage of 57.7% which was the 10th-best in DI. That performance was also the first time since 2016 that the Wildcats had a team winning percentage 50% or above. In 2021, the Wildcats went 49.2% as a team. They went 41.2% during the shortened 2020 season, 49% in 2019, 42.6% in 2018, and 47.2% in 2017. Villanova was never downright horrific at the dot during that stretch, but they weren’t one of the best either.

A big part of the improvement at the dot is the Wildcats’ primary option Justin Coppola. After going 130-for-248 (.524%) during a sophomore campaign in 2021 that saw him end on a bad note (2-for-19 against Lehigh, 1-for-8 against Georgetown), he put together the best season of his career in 2022. As a junior he went 233-for-398 (58.5%). That included going 65% against Denver and Alec Stathakis in the regular season and going 50% Georgetown and James Reilly in both meetings.

Following the season of improvement at the dot seen from Villanova and Coppola last spring, they will be looking to continue pushing forward.

Does The Villanova Man-Down Unit Sustain?

Overall, the Wildcats’ defense was pretty strong last season. Anchored by goalie Will Vitton (179 saves, 51%) and headlined out front by defenseman Brody LaPorte (40GB/22CT) and All-Conference SSDM Chet Comizio (49GB/24CT), Villanova held their opponents to 11.6 goals per game and caused 9.2 turnovers per game. But where this defense really shined last spring was when man-down.

Villanova found themselves man-down 42 times last season and were able to hold their opponent off the scoreboard in 31 of those instances. That means the Wildcats had a 73.8% success rate when man-down, which was good for seventh-best in DI. The Wildcats were also a top 20 man-down unit in 2021, having a success rate of 71.4% and ranking 14th nationally in the category. They also had a 66.7% success rate in 2019.

Coupled with continually trotting out good defenses headlined by strong caused turnover machines, Villanova has steadily improved its man-down play through each of the past three full seasons and has done so with various personnel groups. It’ll be interesting to see if they can sustain or push forward even more in that category in 2023.

Potential Breakout Player

Mason Reale, Midfield, Senior

Playing in 25 games with one start through two seasons of action, Reale has put up a career total of 11 points (6G/5A). That includes an eight-point (3G/5A) 2022 campaign. Reale is one of multiple players who could very well see increased production next season with the multiple holes this offense has to fill.

Freshman Class

Villanova signed another really good recruiting class in the 2022 cycle. The class features a very strong group of poles that includes Cardinal Cushing (Mass.) LSM Benjamin Baroni and Darien (Conn.) defenseman David Evanchick who are both four-star recruits, per Inside Lacrosse. Corona Del Mar (Calif.) attackman Lucas Network is another IL four-star in this class and headlined its offensive haul.

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