A season can’t typically be judged as a breakthrough until after it’s over and the next season has rolled around.
In 2018, Villanova received a bid to the NCAA Lacrosse tournament for the first time since 2011. The 10 wins the Wildcats posted were also the most since that season.
Still, as Nova coach Mike Corrado has found out in his 12 years as head coach there, one successful season does not mean a program has turned a corner and is ready to consistently run with the big dogs.
In Corrado’s third season, in 2009, the Wildcats won 11 games and made the NCAA field for the first time in the program’s history. Nova won 10 games in 2010 but did not receive an at large bid.
So, the 2011 campaign marked the second time in three seasons that Villanova made the tournament, and with three consecutive double-digit win seasons the program looked like it had arrived.
Over the next six seasons, however, Nova did not win more than nine games and posted three losing seasons.
The Wildcats are looking to be a team that returns to the NCAAs and also take the next step to win the program’s first tournament game.
But the way the NCAA selection is set up, it’s not easy for a program to establish itself as a perennial postseason team.
“We have 70-some lacrosse programs, and 16 will make the tournament,” said Corrado, whose team lost at 2018 national finalist Duke in the first round. “There are nine automatic bids. [There is also play-in game for the field of 16]. The Atlantic Coast Conference doesn’t get an automatic because it only has five programs, but most years it’s going to get four of the eight at-large bids.
“So now, you’ve got everyone else playing for four spots. It is really hard to make the NCAA tournament. Every year a lot of good teams get left out.”
Last season, with Villanova, Denver and Georgetown, the Big East place three teams in the tournament for the first time.
Corrado, whose team beat eventual NCAA champion Yale during the regular season, plays a challenging out-of-conference schedule to help build the Wildcats' profile.
This season, the Cats open on Saturday at Penn State, the NIKE/US Lacrosse preseason 11th-ranked team, and then No.1 Yale. They travel to No.3 Maryland and have Big East games against No.9 Denver, No. 18 Georgetown and No. 20 Marquette.
“You have two ways to do it,” Corrado said. “At-large, like we did, or win the Big East tournament. We think we have the talent to do it.”