Wouldn’t everybody like to have a “rebuilding” year like this one?
Coming off of last year’s run to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, and coming into the season having lost 13 seniors, including nine starters and one of the top goalkeepers in the nation, West Virginia Wesleyan Coach Patrick Holguin – and the rest of the coaches in the Mountain East Conference – figured this would be a year for restocking and rebuilding, and that the Bobcats would need at least a season to be back in contention.
“I thought we were going to be inconsistent,” with several new and untested players, acknowledged Holguin.
Instead, the BR-74 Bobcats have been one of the most consistently tough defensive teams in the nation, allowing just two goals all season and completing an undefeated run through the regular season, finishing 16-0-2. The only two blemishes on their record were back-to-back midseason 0-0 draws with West Liberty and Concord.
“In some ways I’m surprised at the amount of success we’ve had,” Holguin said. But not really that much. He’s taken West Virginia Wesleyan to the NCAA tournament three times in his five years.
“I tell recruits the expectations at Wesleyan are to win,” Holguin said. “We never think of losing as an option and that’s how we train….. We keep finding a way.”
The “way” this year has been through that unbelievable brick wall defense, the best in the nation, statistically, having given up .106 goals per game.
Fifth-year senior center back Rachel Ritchey, last season’s Mountain East Defensive Player of the Year, is a big reason, providing experienced leadership in the back.
“She just breaks every attack down,” Holguin said of Ritchey. “She’s the reason our defense is what it is.”
The stellar play of Ritchey and the rest of the defense has kept a lot of pressure off first year starting goalkeeper Hillary DeWitt, who had played in only a few games before this year and had the unenviable job of replacing Lauren Duncan – who had the unusual distinction of holding both the DII single season record for goals-against average and save percentage and was widely considered one of the best DII goalkeepers in the nation. Duncan also gave up just two goals in a season back in 2013.
Because of Wesleyan’s defense, DeWitt has been able to ease into that pressure – and has given up fewer goals this season than Duncan did in 2014.
“She doesn’t get tested a whole lot, but when she has, she’s come up big,” Holguin said of DeWitt.
West Virginia Wesleyan now goes into Mountain East Conference tournament play as the top seed of four conference teams, and will play Shepherd.
“We’re focused on the next game, and that’s all that matters,” Holguin said. “You lose you go home, so we’re focused on Shepherd University…. Shepherd got one from us last year here, they’re very, very dangerous.”
Actually, if Wesleyan were to lose, they probably wouldn’t go home for the year. The Bobcats are ranked second in the NCAA’s Atlantic region, and likely would remain ranked high enough even with a loss to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Charleston and Notre Dame will play in the other Mountain East semifinal.