|School – Xavier|
|Conference – Big East|
|Coach – Andy Fleming (7th Season)|
Background – Xavier was 12-6-1 overall in 2015 with a 5-3-1 mark in conference play. The Musketeers had signature wins in 2015 over Creighton and Notre Dame.
Andy Fleming bacame the Xavier head coach in 2010. Since Fleming has been at the helm of the program the Musketeers are 73-34-18 overall and have posted ten or more wins in each of the past six seasons.
Xavier earned their first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 following a two-win season in 2009. They have made four appearances in the NCAA Tourney in the past six seasons (2010, 2011, 2012, 2014).
The Musketeers won back-to-back Atlantic 10 Championships in 2010 and 2011. In 2014 Xavier recorded a program high fifteen wins and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the history of the program.
The Musketeers moved from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East Conference in 2013 and have finished among the top four spots in the conference the past three seasons.
Dallas Jaye was named the 2015 Co-Big East Goalkeeper of the Year. Jaye and defender Cory Brown were All-Big East First Team selections.
Offense – The biggest question mark on the offensive side of the ball is who is going to fill the void that exists due to the graduation of midfielder Alex Ridsdale (8g, 1a) who was a four-year starter and Xavier's top goal scorer in 2015. The Muskeeters also will be without the services of forward Calum Latham (3g, 1a) and midfielder Kyle Martin (0g, 2a) due to graduation.
Junior Matt Vasquenza (5g, 1a) returns up-top with two-years of starting experience under his belt. Vasquenza's ability to lead the attack up-top and establish himself as a go-to goal scorer looks to be among the critical success factors for Xavier in 2016.
Vasquenza will be joinned in the rotation up-top by redshirt freshman Sam Sergi and redshirt sophomore Kaleb Bayse (2g, 0a). Sergi is a 6' 3" target player who had a very productive spring season. Bayse who played in five contests last year has big play ability. Both have the potential to have breakout seasons.
The midfield looks to be a team strength in 2016 with a solid group of linkmen slated to return. The midfield looks to be multi-dimensional with many interchangeable pieces which will give Fleming a lot of lineup options.
Redshirt sophomore Ian Vicars (1g, 1a), redshirt senior Majed Osman, (2g, 3a), senior Jalen Brown (1g, 2a), junior Josh Grant (2g, 2a), junior Walker Andriot (1g, 0a) and sophomore Joash Sutherland are among returning midfielders who figure to play prominent roles in 2016.
Vicars had a breakout spring season until slowed by a torn achilles; however, he is expected to return to the pitch around the middle of September. Osman, a First Team All-MAC selection at WVU as a sophomore in 2013, was a starter last year at Xavier and returns for a fifth season. Brown has the potential to be a go-to guy and will likely set the tone for the team. Look for Brown's ability to create and finish scoring opportunities in the final third to have a huge impact on Xavier's productivity on the offensive side of the ball.
Grant's speed and quickness on the flank adds an additional dimension to the Musketeer attack that can create problems for opposing defenders. Andriot is the team quarterback and a very solid two-way player. He is a very smooth distributor with great touch on the ball. Andriot is the type of player who makes everyone around him better. Sutherland will likely anchor the midfield in the holding midfielder role.
Junior transfer Brahan Gamarra and freshman Derrick Otim are among the newcomers who should push for playing time in the midfield. Gamarra, a left-footed attacker, is the most intriguing member of the recruiting class. He is a playmaker whose resume includes being named a First Team NJCAA All-American at Tyler Junior College last year. Otim, who is out of the Nottingham Forest FC, participated in the spring season and established that he has the skill and soccer savvy to contribute deep, wide or underneath.
Defense – The graduation of right back Chris Moore (2g, 1a) who was a three-year starter and goalkeeper Dallas Jayne who was named the 2015 Big East Co-Goalkeeper of the Year creates voids that must be filled on the defensive side of the ball. The backline looks to be a strong suit in 2016 but the play in goal remains a crucial unanswered question.
The backline will be led by junior center back Cory Brown who has been a starter for the past two seasons. Brown could be the best at his postion in the country. He will be very capably joined by senior center back Todd Pratzner who Fleming has descriped as one of the most "underated players in the nation." Fleming has indicated that Pratzner who has been a starter for the past three seasons has improved as much as anyone he has every coached.
Junior Matt Nance who was a starter last year returns at left back. Nance is a playmaker with the ability to push forward to add additional punch to the offense.
Sophomore Cameron Taylor, transfer Curtis Hansford from Charlotte, and junior Josh Grant look to be among the early frontrunners for the open right back spot.
The vacant job between the pipes looks to be up for grabs with three players in a neck to neck battle for the starting job. Senior Jake Ciricillo is a team leader who performed well when given the opportunity during the spring season. Sophomore Colin Hanley who is a transfer from Niagara and freshman Zach Nelson also look to be in the mix. Hanley was the 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year in Louisisana. Nelson honed his skills playing for the Portland Timbers Academy.
Newcomers – Three and a Half Star Recruiting Class
Coach Fleming stated, "A large senior class coupled with a few other openings, led to a bigger-than-normal recruiting group. This group includes our first-ever JUCO transfer, as well as our first recruits from the Pacific Northwest. Add in two Englishmen, a local guy, three left-footers, two Floridians, a Texan, five former camp attendees and a rare player from Louisiana and you have a unique, balanced and capable class with I expect a lot from."
Cole McKinney – Forward – Palm Harbor, Florida – East Lake High School – Played for the Charges SC. Four-year U.S. ODP Academy player.
Bryce Curran – Midfielder – Cincinnait, Ohio – Manson High School – Played for the Cincinnati United Premier. 2015 NSCAA All-Region First Team selection. 2015 All-Ohio First Team. Named 2015 Cincinnati Enquirer Player of the Year.
Grant Dumler – Midfielder – Eagan, Minnesota – St. Thomas Academy – Played for the TwinStars Academy. Two-time All-State selection. Three-time All-Conference.
James Scasserra – Defender – Miami Shores, Florida – Played for Fort Lauderdale Select. Broward County Player of the Year in 2015. Two-year ODP state and regional team.
Zachary Nelson – Goalkeeper – West Linn, Oregon – West Linn High School – Played for the Portland Timbers Academy. ODP regional and state goalkeeper.
Samuel Buzzas – Defender – Bend, Oregon – Sunset High School – Played for the Portland Timbers Academy. Also played for the Florida Rush.
Payton Miller – Midfielder – Woodlands, Texas – Woodlands High School – Played for Texas Rush. Three-year team captain for the Texas Rush.
Alex Schupp – Midfielder – Knoxville, Tennessee – Farragut High School. – Played for FC Alliance. 2015 Class AAA All-State selection. Tennessee ODP team member.
Derrick Otim – Midfielder – Nottingham, England – Gedling School – Played for Nottingham Forest FC. Enrolled in January and had solid spring season.
Brahan Gamarra – Midfielder – Snellville, Georgia – Brookwood High School – Played for Alianza de Futbol. Junior transfer from Tyler Junior College where he was a NJCAA 2015 First Team All-American. Georgia 6A Player of the Year in 2014.
Colin Hanley – Goalkeeper – Mandeville, Louisiana – St. Paul's High School – 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year in Louisiana. ODP Region III team. Transfer from Niagara.
Curtis Hansford – Defender – Weymouth, England – Budmouth Technology College – Transfer from Charlotte. Played for Yeovil FC.
Prognosis for 2016 – The midfield and the backline look to be where Xavier's strength lies heading into the season. That means that the X-Factor may be the productivity up-top and the level of play in goal.
The ability of forward Matt Vasquenza to power the attack and for the likes of forwards Sam Sergei or Kaleb Bayse or someone else to have breakout seasons and add balance and productivity to the attack up-top will likely have a big impact on the level of success that Xavier enjoys in 2016.
The midfield will be deep and talented. Redshirt senior Majed Osman, senior Jalen Brown and junior Walker Andriot are among a solid core of midfielders that provide Fleming a lot of talent to work with.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cory Brown, Todd Pratzner, and Matt Nance combine to give Xavier a very impressive and tenacious back line. Several very capable candidates are on board to fill the vacant right back slo.
The play in goal remains an unanswered question. The good news is that three very talented netminders are competing for the starting position. The not so good news is that whoever prevails will likely experience a learning curve in the early going. The fact that the backline will be experienced is a plus and should reduce the impact.
It will be tough for Xavier, or any other team in the Big East for that matter, to catch Creighton and Georgetown who remain the frontrunners in the conference. But all things considered the Musketeers along with Butler and perhaps Providence should be close on their heels.
Both Crieighton and Georgetown will be solid but both have some key gaps to plug due to graduation and early departures to enter the professional ranks so neither is by any means a lock to sweep through conference play.
History has a way of repeating itself. Xavier under Fleming's direction tends to rise to the occassion when facing a challenge. The Musketeers missed the NCAA Tournament in 2013 but responded in 2014 with a program best fifteen win season that included a run to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. They also missed the NCAA Tournament last year so it is safe to say that Xavier will be a hungry and focused team with their sights set on a return to NCAA Tournament field in 2016.
The bottom line is that Xavier now has the kind of talent and the depth needed to challenge any team in the Big East, but finding consistency and taking it one contest at a time are important factors that will ultimately determine the type of season that the Musketeers have in 2016.
The Musketeers have a challenging schedule that includes difficult early season non-conference contests with the likes of Dartmouth, Virginia, and Louisville. With seven starters returning along with a solid core of returning players and a very promising recruiting class, there is no doubt that Xavier will be a competitive side in 2016.
However in order to up their win total they can't afford to take their foot off the gas. In other words, they are going to have to take care of business when facing lesser opponents in between the games against big name opponents. They also will need to be able to make the adjustments needed to prevail when facing opponents with different styles of play.