Category archive: Villanova Wildcats
Bracket willing, this hopefully wasn't a preview of anything short of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA tournament (three years after the two teams played a first-round game in one of the least fair draws in recent memory). There are reasons to believe so for both the winner and loser.
For USC, the win puts a punctuation mark on a six-game winning streak spanning the past three weekends. The streak, which also includes road wins against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma (the latter more impressive after the Sooners took out Texas A&M on Sunday), eases the sting of a 1-3-0 start that dropped the Women of Troy from No. 8 in the preseason to out of the Top 25.
Adjusting to life after Amy Rodriguez and Ashley Nick was always going to be a challenge, and losing junior Ashli Sandoval, last season's leading point-getter, to a torn ACL after five games this fall presented yet another challenge. But with seven goals from six players in the past four games, they're finding ways to get the ball in the back of the net as Pac-10 play approaches.
On the other side, the loss ended a fantastic run for the Broncos that included wins at Georgetown, against Colorado on a neutral field and at home against Notre Dame and Purdue. But it also marked the third game in a row on the field for Amanda Poach.
Like Jordan Angeli, Poach missed the past two seasons, first with an ACL injury and last year with a hip injury. In the first practice this season, she tore cartilage in her knee and needed to have 80 to 90 percent of her meniscus removed. She hadn't resumed practicing when I talked to Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith almost four weeks ago, still bothered by pain in the knee, and he made it clear that there was a very real chance she wouldn't ever be able to get back on the field.
He was also clear about exactly how much of a loss that would have been.
"Jordan's our best leader; Amanda's our most talented player," Smith said. "And that's not close. Amanda is so talented. She ranks right up there with the most talented kids I've ever coached. She is super, super talented. Healthy, I would put everything I had on her making the full national team, let alone a pro league."
Obviously, it's going to take some time for Poach, who played for the United States in the 2006 Under-20 World Cup, to get back up to speed. She played just 25 minutes against USC and hasn't hit 50 minutes in her first three appearances. But come November, she'll be nice to have.
"If we've got the team we have with Jordan and Amanda, we could probably beat anybody," Smith said. "Doesn't mean we're the best team; we just can beat anybody."
Rutgers 1, Villanova 1
Despite losing four key players to season-ending injuries already this season, and playing Sunday night without regular starter Rheanne Sleiman (ankle injury), Rutgers is 8-1-2 overall this season, ranked No. 17 in the nation and tied with St. John's for the second-best record in the Big East at 2-0-1, behind only Notre Dame.
So you might have thought Scarlet Knights coach Glenn Crooks would have been relatively content with the draw against Villanova, earned on Karla Schacher's second-half equalizer from a very tough angle. And while Crooks did express satisfaction with how the team has dealt with its adversity, his agitation at the result of the day offered a glimpse at why the team has weathered the ills.
As Crooks put it: "You can look at our record and say, 'Yeah, great, we're ranked, we're in pretty good position in the Big East.' But for us, we've got to deal with those moments better. There's moments in every match -- and we lost in San Diego because we didn't deal with those moments very well and we tied tonight because we didn't deal with those moments very well."
And bring an umbrella.
All right, perhaps the weather was a one-time issue Friday, when Mother Nature and spartan accommodations combined to make a soggy mess of matters (although the field held up far better than the scribe). But on the field, the hosts turned in two dramatic finishes against quality opponents in the Villanova Classic and improved to 2-0-1 this season.
Kelly Eagan's strike in the closing minutes of double overtime gave Villanova a 2-1 win against Virginia Tech on Friday, and Katie Ryan's 90th-minute goal Sunday led to a 2-2 draw against Nebraska.
I was on hand only for the former, but coach John Byford's early assessment proved prophetic.
"What we take away from it is just the way we fought," Byford said of the win over Virginia Tech. "And that was something we didn't have as much last year, and as I said to the kids this year, that will take us a long way. If we can grind out games, just compete and compete and compete, we have enough talent to score."
Eagan is a three-time all-Big East selection and an anchor in the middle of defense, as Virginia Tech standout Emily Jukich learned with frustration. She's also a walking definition of clutch, with all five career goals serving as game winners, including two in overtime. But if Eagan is the face of Villanova, Rachel Schuyler may symbolize this team's upside and the program's future under its second-year coach. Byford didn't recruit Schuyler, but with a big leg and creativity, she's a perfect piece for a system built on playing fluid, attacking football.
"Rachel's got the ability," Byford said. "For a kid who's not very big, she's very good in the air. She can hit good, quality long passes -- not just smack the ball forward, she can play a good, quality pass. And we've got a lot of pace up front. She's a gamer. Sometimes she's not the best practice player, but when the game's on, she comes to play."
A young Villanova team with a new coach gave up 28 goals in 19 games last season, the most per game in more than a decade. But last year's team also scored better than two goals per game for the first time since 2001. Virginia Tech had the edge in attack for much of the second half Friday, but given the conditions and the calendar, Villanova's ability to build through midfield and get the ball to the extremely impressive Ryan hinted at what could be in store this fall.
• STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Another week and another good show in the middle of Pennsylvania.
Starting a rebuilt back line that included two sophomores and one freshman, No. 14 West Virginia pulled out a 2-1 win against No. 8 Penn State. The Mountaineers withstood a Nittany Lions attack that produced 14 shots and enjoyed the run of play for much of the second half.
With so much youth, West Virginia may not hit its stride until conference play. But after a 2-0 exhibition loss against Maryland and a 0-0 tie against Ohio State to open the regular season, Saturday's physical battle represented about eight steps in the right direction.
The Mountaineers have a lot of parts, if not proven pieces, in the attack (led by the healthy return of Megan Mischler), and whatever ups and downs are ahead, they have a nascent identity.
"I think when you have such a young team as we have, it's such a learning curve but it's such a quick curve," coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. "And these girls have worked so hard in the last two weeks. The staff has put in so many hours and the girls have put in so many hours; I mean, it's a 360."