At first, Brendan Lawler chuckled at the question. Then he gave it some deep thought.
The query was about whether he was experiencing any sleepless nights with the Manhattan College women’s soccer season tipping off this week, and the Jaspers going into said season without arguably the program’s finest player, Erica Modena.
Modena, who graduated last May, left Manhattan with 34 career goals and 82 career points, both totals good for second place all-time in program history. She will not be easily replaced.
“Obviously she is one of the best players to ever come through our program,” said Lawler, now entering his ninth season as head coach. “But in the college game, we always know everybody is going to be leaving at some point. You can’t sign anybody to a long-term contract. We still have a lot of players still here that we believe in, but obviously we’re going to miss her.”
Two of those players Lawler will lean on are Emma Saul and Arianna Montefusco, both a big part of the Jaspers success last season as they reached the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game for the second time in three seasons.
“We have a deep team, but those two are going to stand out because of where they were at the end of last year,” Lawler said.
Saul finished tied for the MAAC lead with nine assists last seat season while Montefusco was third in the conference with nine goals, and fifth with 21 points. Lawler hopes to spread the scoring around again this year much like last year.
“In 2017 we had more players score than we scored goals in 2016,” said Lawler, whose Jaspers netted 39 goals, third most in school history. “I think 13 or 14 different people scored goals, so I’m hoping this year we have a team that continues that — where we get five or six goals from a lot of different people so that we’re harder to defend.”
The Jaspers finished with 10 overall wins last season, and 6-2-2 in the MAAC, to finish the regular season in second place. The 10 wins marked the second time in three seasons the Jaspers posted double-figure wins and just the fourth time in program history.
So are these Jaspers ready to contend with mighty Monmouth, the perennial MAAC heavyweight?
“When my wife asks me that question I always tell her, ‘We’ll see,’” Lawler said.
“And now she just makes fun of me because I say ‘we’ll see’ so often. But I would like to say yes. I do believe we are. I believe our league is very balanced. Monmouth has won it (three times in the last five seasons), but there’s not that much difference between the teams in our conference.
“People from the outside know that we can win, so no one takes us lightly anymore. But if I’ve learned anything it’s that every year is brand new and no one is going to get to where they want to be just because they did it in the past.”
Manhattan was picked fourth in the MAAC Preseason Coaches Poll, and that little slight did not go unnoticed by Lawler.
“I would think being that we finished second in the conference last year that we should have been picked a little higher,” he said. “But that’s just a little more motivation to prove to people that we can stay up there.”
To prepare for the MAAC season, Lawler put together a formidable non-conference schedule, which kicks off Aug. 23 at LaSalle in Philadelphia.
“I would describe our non-conference schedule as the hardest in my nine seasons,” Lawler said. “LaSalle won the Atlantic 10 last year and we always play Fordham ,and they are a very strong Atlantic 10 team as well. Binghamton was first or second (in the America East Conference) last season, Hartford is almost always in their conference finals. And then we go down to Florida for two games in the heat and humidity on the road (against Jacksonville and North Florida,) so that will tell us a lot about how well we can play on the road in adverse conditions..”
“Taking that next step” will be the Jaspers’ unofficial rallying cry after falling just short of a championship last season.
“We can’t be satisfied with getting to the final two of the last three years,” Lawler said. “We need to keep driving to take that next step. Kick that door down instead of knocking on it politely.”