Chartiers Valley grad Boyle hoping to lead Case Western men's soccer to NCAA Tournament
The Case Western Reserve men's soccer team is coming off one of its most successful seasons in recent memory. The Spartans went 13-4-1 overall and were ranked as high as 16th in NCAA Division III.
A good portion of the Spartans' performance was tied to the play of its defense and keeper Calvin Boyle, a Chartiers Valley graduate. Boyle had one shutout and nine games of giving up only one goal on his way to leading the University Athletic Association in save percentage (.842).
Yet for Boyle and Case Western, there was an empty feeling.
Boyle, who played in all 17 matches as a freshman (16 starts), was limited to 11 matches in 2015 because of injuries. The team, meanwhile, finished only 4-3 in the UAA and missed out on a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
So the 2016 season is a chance for both to tidy up some unfinished business. It won't be easy.
Case Western again must fight its way through the UAA, which has three teams ranked in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll, as well as a tough nonconference schedule. And Boyle will be challenged by three veteran goalies — fellow junior Christian Grimme and seniors Thomas Nolan and Frank Candau — for playing time.
“We're fortunate to have some very good keepers behind Calvin,” coach Brandon Bianco said. “He's definitely going to see a lot of time, but there are others who are going to have an opportunity as well. He has some good guys pushing him.”
“The skill gap between the four of us is almost nonexistent,” Boyle said. “I'm probably at any moment as close to being fourth string as I am to being the starter, which means in training there's always intense competition.
“It's a very beneficial environment to be in to have that many people who can give you a challenge and you have the opportunity to give them a challenge as well.”
Boyle has compiled quite a resume in his two years at Case Western.
His freshman year, in which the Spartans went 8-6-4 (2-3-2), he posted five shutouts. His lone shutout a year ago came in a double-overtime win over Carnegie Mellon. Boyle had nine saves in that match.
He ranks third in the program's history with a 0.92 goals-against average, fourth with 14 wins, tied for fifth with six shutouts and eighth with 128 saves.
Bianco said Boyle's strong suits are his athletic ability and footwork. Good feet aren't necessarily associated with a keeper, but because Bianco likes his team to trigger the offense from the back, Boyle has the ability to act as a pseudo field player to get the attack going.
Bianco said he believes the final step in Boyle's development will be to take on more of a leadership role.
“Calvin really had to work on that side because he had the physical tools,” Bianco said. “We've been on him about his continued presence in the goal, his communication and the way he directs the team from the back. I think he's making strides with that.”
“There wasn't the need for me to step up and be a leader (last year),” Boyle said. “We had tremendous seniors who did their fair share of the leadership. This is definitely an opportunity for me to expand.”
Boyle and the Spartans got to expand their experience in another way during the spring. The returning players took a trip to Brazil, where they took on three national club teams.
Brazil, of course, is recognized as one of the world's hotbeds for soccer. The South American nation has a record five World Cup victories and is coming off a gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
Boyle got to see first-hand what makes the Brazilians so successful.
“It's a much more — I don't know if creative is the correct word to use — but there's much more flair in the style that they play,” he said. “They're all tremendously gifted with their feet. American soccer is based primarily on athleticism and one team being physically superior to the other.
“Over there, even the small guys can absolutely dominate in a position because their team allows them to manipulate the ball around the other team and outplay them technically rather than physically. The technical skill, if we can replicate even a portion of the talent they demonstrate over there, we will be tremendously successful this year.”
Regardless of whether they can mimic the skill of the Brazilians, the Spartans' success will depend heavily on the play of their keeper. Bianco said he still is making decisions on some positions, including keeper.
Bianco said who starts in the net largely will be up to Boyle.
“I really think he's someone who can be as good a goalkeeper as anyone in the country if he chooses to,” Bianco said. “(That) means he just needs to continue to work on that presence and the communication and his overall leadership among the group. He's taken good steps, but there's still room for improvement.
“If we're good, Calvin's going to have a lot to do with it. I'm pretty confident in that.”
Boyle said he believes he will be a big part of the team, too — even if it's not as the Spartans' primary keeper.
“Whether my role this year is as starting goalkeeper or as one of the relievers, I'll always be able to have an impact on the team,” he said, “whether that's playing in games and being successful on the field or working hard in practice as a backup and pushing whoever is the starter to play better.”