By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Now, we’re not supposed to mix metaphors when it comes to sports, but it was quite appropriate that New York University men’s soccer coach Kim Wyant threw many members of her 2017 freshmen class into the deep end of the Division III pool last year.

The Violets had a heavy incoming class with 10 freshmen and one junior transfer.

They paid the price for the inexperience. The team went 0-6-1 in the University Athletic Association, surrendering 20 goals — and 9-8-3 overall — but it was worth it for the experience.

“That was our learning curve and experience in that sophomore class,” Wyant said in an interview earlier this week. “Now they have a lot of experience and can take all of that and we mixed it in with our upper classmen and now our freshman class. Now we have seen where all of that pain and all of that learning and that investment that we made last year has paid off this year because we completely turned it around.”

Indeed, it has, and then some.

NYU went 3-3-1 in the UAA this season, conceding but four goals, and reached the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time since 2010. The Violets (12-4-1) take on Haverford College in Montclair, N.J. Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

In their final UAA regular season game of the season, a 1-0 win over Brandeis, the Violets fielded a team that included only four seniors — goalkeeper Grant Engel, defender Niko Partk and midfielders Ricardo Mitrano and Alexander Dano — and one junior — Sergio Monton.

Their lineup included four sophomores — defender Jake Velvel, midfielders Santiago Huertas and Matteo Russo and forward Maxi Rodriguez — and two freshman — defenders Pablo Vargas and Louis Meeks. Of the six bench players Wyant deployed, one was a junior, Matteo Schiltz, two were sophomores — Richie Rambarran and Daniel Sarmiento and three were freshmen — Vince Bulzoni, Oliver Kleban and Isaiah Boyd.

Wyant, who lives in Garden City, N.Y., said her incoming class of freshmen and another junior college transfer this season has been just as impressive.

“They’re fearless,” she said, “and we’ve given them the tools and hopefully the confidence to feel they can succeed. The upperclassmen had been great role models for them. We play in the best conference in the country in Division III men’s soccer. We won’t see anything in the NCAA tournament that we haven’t already seen.”

Wyant cited two recent games as examples — a 1-0 loss at the University of Chicago Oct. 26 on a corner kick and a 1-0 Nov. 3 home win over Brandeis, long a Division III power.

“Chicago is a legitimate contender to win the national championship,” she said. “Brandeis made two deep runs in the NCAA’s. They [her team] know they’re not going to see any team through this run that they haven’t already been matched up against.”

Some players have stepped up and ran with it. Take, for example, kleban, a freshmen striker out of Denver, Colo. He leads the team with eight goals and five assists after NYU lost junior forward Owen Smith to an ACL tear 10 games into the season.

Kleban scored the game-winner with only 16 seconds remaining against Brandeis on an all-freshman play. Boyd sent a long ball into the penalty area that Pablo Vargas headed to Kleban, who slotted it home for a 1-0 triumph to give NYU a 3-3-1 conference mark.

“Ollie is getting more playing time than expected,” Wyant said. “We knew he was a talent when we were recruiting him. We knew that he’s very tenacious and has that goal-scoring mentality. He is sort of arrogant and fearless in a way you need a goal-scorer to be. He’s very quick, too, which I think catches teams by surprise. There’s only upside to him for sure.

“We’ve had players like Ollie who stepped up and filled that void, scoring goals for us and getting all that experience. So the future is bright.”

And so it the present.

Wyant, who is believed to be the first women’s coach to direct a men’s team into an NCAA soccer tourney, had an inkling of what was to come the first two games of the season — a 3-2 loss at Rutgers-Camden Aug. 31 and a 1-0 win at Rowan University, a Division III powerhouse, Sept. 1.

“Rowan is traditionally a top 10 team, made it to the tournament many times. after that weekend i came away from that weekend, ‘Ok, I have a legit team. We are legitimate. There are no holes in this program. The only downside is that we are quite young and inexperienced. I came away from that weekend that we would be in every single match that we played. Our UAA competition, which traditionally brings the top teams in Division III … turned out to be the case. Not only we were in every game, we found out ways to win games that were sort of on a knife’s edge that could go one way or another.”

Saturday’s foe Haverford, which is located in Haverfored, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia, enters the competition at 14-4. The Violets have lost to the Fords four times, but the sides haven’t met in more than a generation, in 1992.

“I know that they’re good,” Wyant said. “I know draw players throughout the country like we do. They’re not a more regionalized team like some of these other teams. So I do think they will be solid in every category. They’re well coached. They probably have more experience than we do. I think it will be a great match-up.”

Regardless how the Violets fare, Wyant is having the time of her life as a coach. Well, as much fun a demanding coach can have.

“This is really fun,” she said. “I will admit that it hasn’t been as much fun these past three seasons because there was so much to do. There was a lot of moving parts to pour this foundation. I really [feel] we poured the foundation for this program. To have this foundation and to be in the NCAA’s, is just enormously excited because we have such a young team. It’s been really grueling. That’s the word I use, but it’s definitely been a lot of fun. I want to keep it that way as we move into the tournament.”