Louisville is proving to be more than just a hoops school. Even men's basketball coach Rick Pitino took note of the Cardinals' recent men's soccer success.
"He gave us a shout-out because in one of the polls we're ranked No. 1 in the country," Louisville soccer coach Ken Lolla said, referring to comments made during Pitino's annual Tip-Off Luncheon on Tuesday.
Louisville is 7-0-2, and its most recent outing was a 2-1 victory over perennial power St. John's on Saturday. The Cardinals opened the season with a scoreless tie at Duke and later tied Ohio State, which recently drew with Akron. Outside of that, it's been all victories for a junior-dominated team that has received an offensive spark from a freshman.
The Cardinals are ranked No. 3 in the NSCAA poll and the College Soccer News poll, but top the chart in TopDrawerSoccer.com's rankings.
"We have a group that's had a lot of success in recent years and had high expectations going into the season," Lolla said. The Cardinals are coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, and last year's team was ranked as high as No. 5 during the regular season.
This year's squad has been sound defensively and opportunistic offensively. While Louisville has surrendered only four goals this season, it has scored more than two only once this year -- a 5-0 blowout of Appalachian State. Louisville is 4-0 in matches decided by a goal, and it's all added up to an undefeated record and the program's highest-ever national ranking.
Louisville starts six juniors, three sophomores and a pair of seniors, but it is freshman Dylan Mares who is providing the offensive spark from a role of substitute. Mares has a team-high five goals despite putting only six shots on goal this year. It's a bit of a breakout season for a guy who was overshadowed by U.S. youth national team player Harrison Petts (at Indiana) and A.J. Corrado (at SMU) on his high school team in Zionsville, Ind. Mares was named Big East offensive player of the week after scoring goals against Kentucky and St. John's last week.
Junior keeper Andre Boudreaux has five shutouts and a 0.42 goals-against average, yet has been called on to make only 14 saves this year. The center backs anchoring the defense are junior Austin Berry and sophomore Chase Rodgers.
Louisville's tie with Duke to start the season proved to be both a momentum-builder and a bummer, according to Lolla.
"Coming out of that game, we felt like we should have won the game. I thought [Duke's] keeper had a very good game," Lolla said. "Having done well in that game -- not even so much the result, but having played well -- was certainly good for our self-image."
Louisville then rolled off four straight victories before a scoreless tie against Ohio State. The Cardinals have defeated Providence, Kentucky and St. John's in their three most recent contests.
"It's always a lot more fun when you're winning games -- no question about it," Lolla said of the team's undefeated start. "It's a focused group, but we know we haven't yet reached our peak and there's still a lot of growth left in us."
This weekend, Louisville puts its lofty ranking on the line against Rutgers in a Big East clash.
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Freshman impact: While Mares was collecting Big East honors, another freshman, Bradlee Baladez from the University of South Carolina, gathered Conference USA honors after scoring the game-winning goals in the Gamecocks' victories over Wake Forest and Alabama-Birmingham.
New faces: While much attention is focused on teams near the top of the national rankings, it's time to acknowledge a program that just slipped into the Top 25 with an interesting backstory. Colgate defeated Holy Cross 1-0 on Saturday in a Patriot League match that also served as a reunion for the Colgate 1960 squad that went 9-0-0. Five members of that team, the only undefeated/untied team in Colgate history, were on hand to see the current Colgate members post a victory that has resulted in a No. 24 ranking in this week's NSCAA poll.
"It's great to see those guys come back every five years -- what a great group of guys," Colgate coach Erik Ronning said. The 1960 team scored 51 goals and allowed seven during its perfect showing in 1960, which led to Ronning joking about the current state of offense in soccer.
"They scored 51 goals in nine games we have eight goals in nine games," he said.
Recruiting road: Michigan State has quietly assembled a very strong Class of 2011 recruiting class, which was bolstered by the recent commitment of Dzenan Catic of Kentwood, Mich. Catic is one of five Development Academy players committed to the Spartans in a six-member class. Last year, Catic played an active role in the Derby County Wolves' U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoff showing, despite being a year younger than most of his teammates and competition. The lone non-Academy player committed to the Spartans is Adam Montague, whom an Academy director described as the nation's best player who was not in the Academy. While most of the national recruiting is centered on club soccer, it is fair to note that the recent commitment of Giovanni Esposito of New Jersey to Iona College marks the fifth player from Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) to verbal to an NCAA Division I program.
For the latest verbal commitment information, visit ESPNRISE.com.
Sheldon Shealer is the soccer editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site.