Xavier - Four Star Recruiting Class - The Musketeers are moving into uncharted territory in 2013. For starters they will begin play in the new Big East Conference in 2013 after being a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference for many years. In addition to Xavier, the ten-team conference will include Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova.
Perhaps the biggest question is what does Xavier need to do for an encore to keep the momentum going after arguably the best season in school history last year. In 2012 the Musketeers won a record fourteen victories, earned their third consecutive invite to the NCAA Tournament, and recorded the program's first NCAA Tournament win. Anything less than a good showing in conference play and another trip to the NCAA Tourney would now be considered a disappointment.
The Musketeers return six starters including three of their top four goal scorers from last year but must replace All-Atlantic 10 Conference First Team selection Luke Spencer (14 g, 8a) who has been the main force in the Xavier offense for the past three seasons. Spencer is the type of player that cannot be easily replaced, so look for multiple players to fill his role as the team's go-to guy and leading scorer. Xavier will also be without veteran defenders James Queree (4g, 1a), Sean Ryan (0g, 2a), Adar Cohen (0g, 8a), and goalkeeper Justin Marshall who was a four year starter.
Junior striker Andrew Jordan (3g, 1a) who played in twenty-one contests last year with four starts has the tall task of filling Spencer's shoes up-top. Redshirt sophomore Calum Latham who played in eleven games last year is among other returning players who will seek to fill the void. Freshman forward Jalen Brown from Indianapolis, Indiana is among the newcomers who will compete for playing time up-top.
Andy Fleming will enter his fourth season as the Xavier head coach in 2013. Fleming, who has guided the Musketeers to three consecutive NCAA Tourney berths, has effectively made adjustments in his system of play over the past three seasons to fit the strengths of his players. Last year with Spencer up-top and a very experienced back line the Musketeers utilized more of a wide open attack oriented style of play than in the past. The result was a school record forty-nine goals and an offense that ranked among the top ten nationally in goals and assists. Now that Spencer has departed the building and the Musketeers have to replace a ton of experience in the back chances are pretty good that Fleming will modify Xavier's system of play at least in the early going to be a little less wide open and a little more counter attack oriented as it was in 2010 and 2011.
Heading into the 2013 campaign the midfield will be a team strength with five starters returning for their third season of playing together. If they play to their potential the linkmen should be a difference maker for the Musketeers in a lot of matches.
Redshirt senior Tanner Petrick and junior Garrett Halfhill (1g, 0a) provide the Musketeers with a very dependable defensive midfield tandem. Senior Gino De Paoli (6g, 9a), senior Matt Walker (11g, 10a) who was a 2012 All-Atlantic 10 First Team member, and redshirt junior Will Walker (7g, 6a) who was a 2012 All-Atlantic 10 Second Team selection return to power the Xavier attack. De Paoli has great touch on the ball and vision while the highly talented Walker brothers who come from a soccer savvy family are pure scorers with an instinct for finding the back of the net. Look for the Xavier midfielders to function in a little more of a "tweener" fashion in 2013 than in 2012 since they will likely be called upon to play a significant role in spearheading the attack while also playing a bit more of a hybrid role on the defensive side of the ball.
The backline will be anchored by senior All-American center back Nick Hagglund (2g, 4a) who is considered to be among the top defenders in the country. Hagglund, the 2012 Atlantic 10 Defender of the Year, is tenacious when it comes to winning the 50-50 balls in the air. He has played the past two seasons with nagging knee and hamstring issues but will enter the 2013 season completely healthy. Hagglund is a team leader and will be the guy who will set the pace for the Musketeers in 2013.
Sophomore Rhodes Moore (0g, 2a) looks to be in line to assume the starting right back spot. Junior Owen Steinwall, who had a very productive spring season, junior Matt Hill, and sophomore Chris Moore are among other returning players who look to be in the mix for a key role in the backline. Outside back Walker Androit, centerback Todd Pratzer, and central defender Jacob Smith are among the newcomers who will likely be in the hunt for playing time in the back.
South Florida transfer Eric Osswald who played in twelve games for the Bulls last year and redshirt freshman Vince Shaw from Versailles, Kentucky are competing for the starting goalkeeper role. Give Osswald the edge due to his experience but both are very capable netminders.
Xavier has added a solid nine member recruiting class that features incoming freshmen Smith, Androit and Pratzner who are ranked by College Soccer News as among the top 150 recruits in the class of 2013. Regarding his recruiting class Fleming stated, "Our success has allowed us to cast a slightly bigger net and attract nationwide interest." He added, "We have a blend of local players, a transfer, some national names and perhaps one or two sleepers."
Despite the losses due to graduation, Xavier has enough talent on both sides of the ball to hold their own in Big East play and to keep the program's streak of NCAA Tourney berths alive. However, depth is a potential issue which means that several of the returning players must up their game and the newcomers must emerge in order for the Musketeers to build on the success that they enjoyed in 2012.
There is very little difference in the level of play between the top tier of the Atlantic 10 last year and the top tier of the Big East. However from top to bottom the Big East will be stronger and that could prove to be a challenge for Xavier in terms of wins and losses. The Musketeers must also make the adjustment from the Friday and Sunday game format of the Atlantic 10 to the Wednesday and Saturday game format of the Big East.
Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette and St. John's are currently considered by many to be the frontrunners in the Big East. While it would be foolish for anyone to look past Xavier, this is still a program that falls in the category of "hunter" rather than "hunted." Look for Fleming to use that to his advantage as he prepares his team for what should be a very interesting and competitive 2013 season.
Walker Andriot - Defender - Shelbyville, Kentucky - Martha Layne Collins High - Rated by CSN as the number 125 player in the class of 2013. Kentucky Boys Player of the Year. United FC. Region III ODP.
Matt Appel - Goalkeeper - Canal Winchester, Ohio - Canal Winchester High School - Played for the Columbus Crew Academy. Division I All-State Second Team selection.
Jalen Brown - Forward - Indianapolis, Indiana - Brebuf Jesuit - Indiana United Fire Development Academy. Indiana All-State Second Team. Indianapolis Star Super Team 2011. Region III ODP team .
Jake Ciricillo - Goalkeeper - Cincinnati, Ohio - Sycamore High School - Cincinnati Enquirer Goalkeeper of the Year 2012. All-State Second Team selection.
Eric Osswald - Goalkeeper - Powell, Ohio - Olentangy Liberty High School - South Florida - Transfer from South Florida. All-Tournament Team at Tulsa Golden Hurricane Classis 2012. Columbus Crew Academy.
Jonathon Otting - Defender - Louisville, Kentucky - St. Xavier High School - Played for Lexington United. Helped St. Xavier High School win state championship in 2011 and 2012.
Todd Pratzner - Defender - Lancaster, Pennsylvania - Hempfield High School - Played for PA Classics Development Academy. Rated by CSN as the #133 player in the class of 2013.
Jacob Smith - Utility Player - Atlanta, Georgia - The Walker School - Played for Concorde Fire Development Academy. Rated by CSN as the #39 player in the class of 2013.
Ryan Vilella - Midfield - Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania - Seneca Valley High School - NSCAA High School All-American 2012. Pennsylvania State Player of the Year. Region I ODP team.