As he enters his eighth season as head coach of the Manhattan College women’s soccer program, Brendan Lawler is one year removed from leading the Jaspers to the greatest season in program history.
It was in 2015 Lawler took Manhattan to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game for the first time in school history, logged a school-record 21 points on the season, and finished in second place in the MAAC in the regular season — the best finish ever for the program. That was all while Lawler earned MAAC coach of the year honors.
But last season, the Jaspers took a step backward, posting a 6-10-1 overall mark and a 4-5-1 ledger in the MAAC, missing out on the conference tournament.
So was it a one-year blip for Jaspers? Lawler thinks so.
“We’re very optimistic, let me put it that way,” Lawler said. “Everyone is really healthy right now. You never really want to take a step back, but I think it was a tremendous learning experience for us.”
The Jaspers were a slow-build over the first four or five years before winning the MAAC championship in Lawler’s sixth year.
“We had a large group of people who were only here when we were good, so I thought we had arrived and the culture was set,” Lawler said. “Last year, the record wasn’t good, but we believe strongly that it was a penalty kick here and a crossbar there that kept us from getting into fourth place and into the playoffs. So we’ve taken a lot of learning experiences away from last season.”
One of the players who has been around for most of the good times is senior Erica Modena. In her three seasons with the Jaspers, she has led her team in scoring twice — including her 13 goals in 2015 that placed her third in the MAAC and 60th nationally — and has been named to an All-MAAC team each season.
Lawler will rely on his senior to right the ship in her final season.
“Erica has been through so much with us,” Lawler said. “It’s definitely going to be a team effort this year, but you always need somebody to step up to score goals for you. But she has proven that, and she will absolutely be the first person that we look to — but for more than just for goals, because she has been here.”
Modena missed the entire 2014 season with a broken leg, Lawler said, and she didn’t have to come back for a fifth year.
“She could have graduated on time, but she wanted to finish this out, so she obviously has the respect of her teammates,” he added.
But Modena can’t get the Jaspers back on track by herself, so Lawler points to another pair of seniors as other keys to a successful comeback season.
“We have Nicole Aylmer and Emily Center, along with Erica, so we will have a lot of senior leadership in the captain position,” Lawler said. “There are also a lot of sophomores and juniors on the team that will be playing that supportive leadership role.”
Defense has been the calling card of Lawler’s teams, and this year will be no different. After all, it was that defense that led to the success in the Jaspers’ record 2015 season.
“Team defensive organization is our focus,” Lawler said. “We’ve absolutely made that our focus. We try to pick out two or three main areas where we believe we can stand out, and our defensive organization is what allowed us to have success in 2015. We believe strongly that it’s going to lead to better offense for us. The way we want to defend is going to allow us quick scoring opportunities.”
The Jaspers got out of the gate in fine fashion in the preseason as they took down both Wagner (1-0) and Albany (2-1), and will look to keep the good times going when they open the regular season versus New Jersey Institute of Technology Friday night at 7 p.m., at Gaelic Park.
Sophomore Olivia Printy will be in the nets for the Jaspers.
So will a disappointing 2016 season drive the Jaspers’ return to being a major player in the MAAC this season?
“Yes, absolutely,” Lawler said. “I think last year will be the motivating factor why we can get back to where we were. The lessons learned from last year will be the motivating factor for us to get back there.”