Sometimes it takes several years to bring success to a college soccer program. In Ken Lolla’s fifth season as the University of Louisville head coach, the 46-year-old has the Cardinals on the cusp of a first-ever national championship.
Louisville (20-0-3), unbeaten all year, qualified for this weekend's College Cup in dramatic fashion. The Cardinals trailed 2-0 and 3-1 at different points in last Saturday’s quarterfinal against UCLA, only to fight back in the second half and winning 5-4 on a goal with seconds left.
“It was tremendous drama for everybody that was there,” Lolla said. “It was a roller-coaster ride of an evening made it for a great affair.”
Holding on against UCLA, and mounting a comeback was indicative of the season Louisville has had. The team showed toughness and tenacity in winning the Big East Tournament, and has lived up to its billing as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The high ranking meant the Cardinals’ road to the College Cup was, comparatively, a bit easier. After a slow start in the second round against the College of Charleston, Louisville took care of business with a 3-1 victory. It followed that up with a steady 2-1 win over Ohio State, before the thrilling last-minute triumph against the Bruins.
For Lolla, it’s an honor to represent the school and men’s soccer program he has helped take to the next level.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to win a national championship here and what it means, not only for the program, but the school as well,” he said.
Fashioning an unbeaten record at this point in a collegiate campaign is no easy task, and Lolla has done well to put together a cohesive group and instill belief throughout the team.
[inline_node:322676]Forward Colin Rolfe has been one of the leaders, providing a work ethic and setting the tone for others. He’s assisted in attack by Dylan Mares, a freshman standout and the team’s leading scorer. Other youngsters, such as Aaron Horton and Charlie Campbell, have coped well with the pressure of knockout soccer.
Talent-wise, Louisville might not stand out in the way that other programs do, with Rolfe the only one earning national accolades as a Hermann Trophy semifinalists. But the results speak for themselves.
“Overall, I think that it is a resilient group, a group that has faith and confidence in themselves, and we constantly talk about controlling what we can control,” Lolla said.
One of the underlying keys to Louisville’s success is the contribution the Cardinals can count on from every squad member. Last Saturday against UCLA, Aaron Horton was at the right place at the right time to score the game-winner. In the Big East championship, 'keeper Andre Boudreaux stuffed Providence to seal the title. At other times, Rolfe or Mares will deliver that much-needed goal.
Now, as the College Cup gets set to kick off on Friday, it’ll take a big-time performance from one of those players to step up and seize the moment, and cap a storybook season.
“We have constantly talked about growth and doing things better moving forward, and we felt like we’ve continued to do that,” Lolla said. “We’ve continued to mature as a group. We started with a vision and our focus has continued to get better.”
A maximum of two games remain in Louisville’s season, and it is one of three teams aiming to secure a first-ever national championship. For a team that has not lost up to this point in the season, getting better now could very well be enough to earn that elusive title.
“I don’t think our record means a whole lot right now,” Lolla said. “There are four teams that are vying for a championship at this point. I don’t think your past record dictates a whole lot.”
The slugfest continues Friday night, as Louisville faces the University of North Carolina in Santa Barbara, Calif.