By Jack Belanger ’21
After an extended offseason, the Providence College Men’s Soccer Team will finally open their season this Saturday at home versus in-state rival University of Rhode Island. Due to the postponement of fall sports, the last time the Friars played was over a year ago in the third round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament, losing to Clemson University 2-1 in overtime.
It will be an interesting year for the Friars as they lost seven players from last season, five of whom were starters, including captain Joao Serrano ’19 and grad-transfer goalkeeper Austin Aviza ’20GS. This means Rimi Olatunji ’22RS will start the season in net for the Friars.
Inexperience in the goal and on offense will be a big roadblock the team must overcome if it wants to have a successful season. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the soccer team has had only about a week or two of full practices as an entire team and has played one intra-squad match. Olatunji has only made two appearances in the last two seasons, and the offense lost five of its seven top point scorers. Luckily for the Friars, Paulo Lima ’22 was named to the Preseason All-Big East Team after leading the team in goals last season.
The strength of the team resides in their defense. Last season, the Friars averaged only one goal allowed per game as well as only 7.2 shots allowed. Ramzi Qawasmy ’22 and recently named captain Malcolm Duncan ’21 both started all 23 games last season on the backline, and will be tasked to be the anchors when things get chaotic.
In order to cut down on travel, the Big East broke into two divisions and shortened the season schedule. The six teams in the Northeast will make up the East Division, while the remaining five will comprise the Midwest Division.
After two local games against URI and Boston College, the Friars will face each team in the East Division twice, including the reigning national champion Georgetown University, who is the preseason favorite to win the East Division. The Friars are picked to finish second, which will make the matchups against the Hoyas especially exciting if the Friars find themselves on the edge of an NCAA tournament bid thanks to a decrease in the number of tournament teams this year.
The Providence College Women’s Soccer Team is also looking to build on their 2019 season when they snuck into the Big East Tournament as a sixth seed and upset the third seed Butler University in the first round. Hannah McNulty ’21 scored the game-tying goal in the 82nd minute, and the Friars were able to win the game in a shootout after two overtimes.
Similar to the men’s league, the Big East will be split into two divisions in which the Friars are predicted to finish third in the East, though they did receive a first place vote, indicating that coaches are taking the team seriously.
McNulty will once again be the focus of every opponent’s defense. She has scored 19 goals over the past two seasons and was a unanimous selection on the Preseason All-Big East Team this year.
While the team needs McNulty to be at her best in order to have a chance to win, they also need to find secondary options when teams put extra pressure on her. Elayna Grillakis ’22 was the only other player on the team to score more than one goal. Thankfully, the Friars will return with every player who scored last season, which means they will need less time to build team chemistry on the offensive side of the field.
A big question for this team is who will replace standout goalkeeper Shelby Hogan ’21RS, who decided to go into the professional league. The team currently has three goalkeepers on the roster, with Caroline Drinkwater ’22 as the only one that has any game experience for the Friars.
This team will face some challenges as they welcome 10 new players, including eight freshmen and two sophomore transfers.
The women will also begin their season this weekend hosting URI on Sunday before hosting another in-state rival Bryant University a week later.
While both teams will share the challenge of opening their season in the midst of winter, there is a lot of excitement around the College’s two soccer teams. Just being back on the field is a relief for the players and coaches, but there is still work to be done. Both teams are hungry after a long break and after each had an incredible finish to their 2019 seasons.