Photo courtesy of goxavier.com | Senior midfielder Simen Hestnes is a veteran member on a men’s soccer team that has its sights set on winning a conference title.
The Xavier men’s soccer team is poised for another season and hopes to parlay its momentum from the end of last season into 2018.
The bar remains high this season with the team returning a majority of its starters from a year ago.
Xavier men’s soccer has flourished under head coach Andy Fleming, who is entering his ninth season in the position.
Throughout the last five seasons, the Musketeers have had a winning record in all but one of those years. The team has also notched 10 wins against top-10 ranked teams since 2010.
In 2017, the Musketeers saw success on the pitch in a season that culminated with a trip to the Big East Championship. Ultimately, Xavier fell short, losing to Georgetown 2-1 in double overtime.
However, the experience may have galvanized a spark for this season — to finish the job.
“For as confident and as excited as we are, we’re quick to look over our shoulder,” Fleming said. “We know what can go wrong… They checked a lot of boxes off. We call it the ‘final two percent’ as far as what we need to finish it off.”
Fleming and the Musketeers have their sights set even further into postseason play — to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
Last season, the Musketeers were not selected to be a part of the tournament.
“I think the ultimate compliment is to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament,” Fleming commented. “Obviously our goal is to win the Big East Championship.
“We went over our goals, and one of our things is those two, but more so to be good defensively… be well led, have depth and have a strong culture.”
Xavier lost a couple of key members from the 2017 team including defender Cory Brown and forward Matt Vasquenza, who tallied 30 career goals. However, the team retains a bevy of talent this year, returning eight starters with playoff experience.
Fleming stated he learned a lot from the Xavier men’s basketball team that made a deep NCAA Tournament run into the Elite Eight. He cited former head coach Chris Mack with his thought on having an “old” and diverse team.
“That’s one thing we’ve tried to do. Two years ago, we reinvented our team from a personnel standpoint,” Fleming said.
“We have eight or nine guys in their fourth year of college soccer. We have a 24-year-old graduate student and a couple of international guys that are very savvy.”
Xavier outscored opponents 37-26 in 2017, and Fleming wants to correct the defensive miscues and ramp up the intensity.
“I think the biggest thing is knowing how we want to do it,” Fleming said. “We talked to our guys about studying history. The great Xavier teams we’ve had have been amongst the nation’s leader defensively.
“There’s six pieces that have been replaced or moved on (within the last two years), and we have a new group intact. So far, so good with the results.”
The 2018 schedule presents a formidable challenge for the Musketeers.
Not only are there two preseason ranked opponents in the Big East — Butler and Georgetown — two other matches, against preseason No. 2 North Carolina and No. 14 Notre Dame will also be highly competitive contests.
The Musketeers are well-equipped for the tests that lie ahead.
“This is the hardest schedule we’ve ever had,” Fleming said. “The great thing is when we go into Big East (play) we will already have seen that level.”
While the competition remains fierce, Xavier has the tools and the personnel to make a run into postseason play and accomplish what it wants to in 2018.
By: Luke Feliciano | Sports Editor