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Xavier 2014 Team and Recruiting Class Review

Team – Xavier
Conference – Big East
Coach – Andy Fleming (5th Season)
Background – Seasons don't always flow as expected. Take Xavier in 2013 for example.  The Musketeers were ranked by College Soccer News as the number twenty-two team in the country in its 2013 preseason poll. Xavier was coming off a school record fourteen win 2012 season that included the programs third consecutive invite to the NCAA tourney.  The Musketeers opened the 2013 campaign with three consecutive losses and lost their first two contests in Big East play before going on a very strong 6-0 run in conference play.  Xavier faced Butler in their last regular season match of 2013 with the opportunity to win outright the Big East regular season title with a victory. Butler won that contest 2-1 and Xavier finished in the number three spot in the conference. The Musketeers then squared off with number six seeded Butler in the Big East Tournament and lost 1-0 to conclude the 2013 season with an overall record of 10-7-2 and a 6-3-0 mark in their first year of play as a member of the Big East Conference.  The Musketeers had signature wins over St. John's, Providence, U.C. Irvine, and Georgetown but no at-large berth in the NCAA tournament was forthcoming. Had Xavier come out on top in just one of the matches with Butler their NCAA tourney outcome might have been different. Defender Nick Hagglund was named a 2013 College Soccer News Third Team All-American and was the 2013 Big East Defensive Player of the Year.  Forward Matt Walker was named to the 2013 All-Big East Second Team.  Midfielder Jalen Brown was named to the 2013 Big East All-Rookie Team. Under the direction of Andy Fleming, Xavier has momentum, confidence, and high expetations.  In a relatively short period of time, as reflected in the fact that Xavier has earned a spot in the NCAA tournament three out of the past four seasons, the program has attained a level of distinction that didn't previousy exist.   
Offense –  Xavier faces the very real challenge of replacing All Big East performer and Columbus Crew signee midfielder Matt Walker (9g, 7a) who had twenty-six career goals.  The Musketeers will also be without free kick specialist midfielder Gino De Paoli (2g, 3a) and his twenty-five career assists as well as starting midfielder Tanner Petrick (0g, 2a).  Xavier will return players who netted a total of only eleven of the twenty-five goals they put into the back of the net last year. While the attack will be the main question mark heading into the 2014 season, Xavier's cupboard is by no means bare. On the postive side of the ledger the Musketeers will bring on board twenty-four career goals via transfers junior midfielder Majed Osman (6g, 7a) from West Virginia and junior midfielder Alex Ridsdale (7g, 2a) from McKendree University. Osman was a 2013 All-Mid American Conference First Team selection at West Virginia while Ridsdale was a two-time All-Conference selection at Division II McKendree. Senior Owen Steinwall who was converted to a striker during the spring season will bring an athletic, make things happen presence to the attack.  Junior forward Calum Lathan (2g, 2a) is a big target player who has proven to be very effective at creating scoring opportunities up-top. Sophomore Jalen Brown (3g, 1a) gained valuable experience playing in all nineteen contests last year and could emerge as the go-to guy for Xavier in 2014 both as a goal scorer and and a setup man.  Senior midfielder Will Walker (5g, 2a) is the top returning goal scorer and will look to dictate the pace of the attack from his new deeper two way midfield spot.  In addition to experienced transfers Osman and Ridsdale, a big factor impacting how quickly Xavier's attack gels in 2014 will be the play and development of highly regarded speedy freshmen forwards Matt Vasquenza and Eric McWoods. Vasquenza was a prolific goal scorer for the Oakwood Soccer Club while McWoods, a two-time NSCAA HIgh School All-American out of Kirkwood High School in Missouri and the Lou Fusz Soccer Club, is a very explosive goal scorer. Freshman midfielder Ian Vicars from Liverpool, England who was a late addition to Xavier's eleven man recruiting class is a solid two way player who has the potential to add another element to the attack.       
Defense – Xavier's defense has been a program strength in the past and has often given them an edge in tough contests.  Much like the attack, the backline has some very capable and promising players returning but there are gaps to plug that will likely create a learning curve of several games before the backline fully takes shape and sorts things out. Replacing Big East Defensive Player of the Year Nick Hagglund at central defense will not be easy and will be the key challenge. The Musketeers will also be without defenders John McDermott and Andy Kaplan due to graduation. Three year starter senior Garrett Halfhill (1g, 3a) who netted three goals during 2014 spring play will anchor the defense from his holding midfielder role. Halfhill is very steady player who has continually improved and is now among the best in the Big East at his position. Kyle Martin, who had an impressive spring season and was named Xavier's most improved player last year, will also be in the mix as a defensive midfielder. Redshirt freshman Walker Andriot upped his stock in the spring season and should contribute depth to the back of the midfield or at the wide midfield spot. Junior Rhodes Moore who started twelve contests last year, junior Chris Moore who had sixteen starts last year, and senior Matt Hill who started twelve contests in 2013 all return and will likely battle for playing in the back.  Sophomore Todd Pratzner who started the first eleven games of the 2013 season before sustaining an ankle injury is now healthy and looks to fit nicely into the left center back slot. Freshmen Cory Brown from New Zealand and Matt Nance whose resume includes time with the U.S. U-17 National Team should also be in the mix for playing time in the back.  Senior Eric Osswald who was the starter in goal last year with a 0.82 goals against average returns between the pipes.      

Newcomers – Four Start Recruiting Class 

Coach Fleming stated, "This class is large and diverse with a little bit of everything. We have two transfers, three internationals, three left-footed players, twenty-four collegiate goals, two guys who stand over 6'3' and by far the fastest class to ever enroll at Xavier."

Cory Brown – Defender – Nelson, New Zealand – Nayland College – Starting left back for New Zealand in 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.  Participated in New Zealand U-20 training camp and played in two internationals for them.

Riley Uhrin – Defender – Hilliard, Ohio – Hilliard Bradley – Played for Blast FC.  Ohio South ODP team.  All-Ohio Team.  

Majed Osman – Midfielder – London, England – International School of London – Junior transfer from West Virginia. All MAC 2013 First Team selection.  Scored three goals as a freshman and six goals as a sophomore.

Josh Grant – Midfielder – Cincinnati, Ohio – Mason High School – Mayed for Cincinnati United Premier.  Six-time Ohio state cup champion.  MVP of Cincinnati All Star game. 

Matt Nance – Midfielder – Washington, Michigan – De La Salle High School – U.S. U-17 national team residency program.  Region II ODP team captain.  Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 119 player in the class of 2014.

Eric McWoods – Forward – St. Louis, Missouri – Kirkwood High School – NSCAA High School All-American.  Region II ODP team.  Played for Lou Fusz Soccer Club. Scored school record 87 career goals.

Kaleb Bayse – Forward – Louisville, Kentucky – Male High School – Played for United FC Rovers.  Five time state champion with Rovers.  Finalist for Gatorade State Player of the Year.  

Cameron Taylor – Defender – Indianapolis, Indiana – North Central High School – Played club for Indiana Fire USSDA.  Played for Carmel United from 09-11. 

Matt Vasquenza – Forward – East Hampton, Connecticut- Hampton High School – Played for Oakwood Soccer Club.  Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 93 player in the class of 2014.  Netted 15 goals for Oakwood in 2013.

Alex Ridsdale – Midfielder – Nelson, New Zealand – Mount Albert High School – Junior transfer from McKendree University. Second Team All Great Lakes Valley Conference. Netted eight goals as a freshman and seven as a sophomore.

Ian Vicars – Midfielder – Liverpool, England – Gateacre Comprehensive – Played for Blackburn Rovers Academy for the past four years.            

Prognosis for 2014 – The 2014 season could be a bridge year for Xavier with so much youth in what is a veteran heavy Big East Conference.  However, the future looks good for the Musketeers with a promising young nucleus combined with enough returning talent to classify Xavier as a solid team that should continually improve as the season progresses in 2014.  If everything falls into place the Musketeers could be a real factor come Big East tournament time. Organization and preparation will be the keys to success in the early part of the season. Whether or not all the pieces fit and fall into place, especially on the offensive side of the ball, will be important.  The senior class has won a conference titile and played in two NCAAs while the junior class was part of the record setting 2012 team that was 14-3-5, was nationally ranked, and won an NCAA game.  The 2014 recruiting class is very talented and includes several late signees that signficantly upped the stock of the class. It is a "now and later" class that should provide immediate help as well as long term benefits.  Fleming has certainly upped the ante at Xavier in only four seasons. Once a relatively easy win, Xavier is now a tough out for anyone.  Now comes the unavoidable question.  Can Xavier keep the momentum going?  The fact that the program has established a winning tradition is a big plus.  Another winnning season and a berth in the NCAA tournament are realistic goals as is a finish in the top half of the Big East Conference but winning the Big East title in 2014 is a stretch goal. Senior leadership, avoiding crucial injuries, and the ability of the two youngest classes to make a significant contribution will likely determine if the Musketeers return to the NCAA tourney field for the fourth time in the past five years in 2014.  

Posted in 2014 Team Reviews

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