Both are builders and both are dreamers, although Ken Lolla might lean more toward the former and Caleb Porter more toward the latter.Marla Ridenour of the Beacon Journal writes of the two giants in the college soccer game, and their ties through Akron University.
The goal that consumes them feels especially tangible today as the two coaches begin pursuit of their schools' first NCAA Division I men's soccer championship.
Should their teams reach the final four, known as the College Cup, or meet for the title in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Dec. 12, it could be the birth of a sports legacy for the University of Akron.
If it hasn't already.
''Maybe Akron is the new cradle of coaches,'' Porter suggested last week, borrowing the moniker first attached to Miami University's famous football graduates in 1959.
UA will be well represented in the 48-team tournament, which opened play Thursday, with coaches of two of the top three seeds having Akron roots.
No. 1 seed Louisville is coached by Lolla, who spent 13 seasons at Akron from 1993-2005. No. 3 seed Akron is directed by Porter, who succeeded Lolla and took the Zips to the College Cup championship last season before losing to Virginia on penalty kicks.
Akron (18-1-1) hosts West Virginia today at 4 p.m. at Lee R. Jackson Field. Louisville (16-0-3) hosts the College of Charleston at 7 p.m.
Both programs have reached unprecedented heights under Porter and Lolla, friends who run into each other on the recruiting circuit and share a mutual respect.
Before Lolla arrived at Louisville, the Cardinals had never been to an NCAA Tournament. This season, they're making their fourth consecutive appearance. In 2007, Lolla doubled his team's win total from five to 11. The Cardinals' four years of double-digit victories have never been previously achieved. Picked to finish second in the Big East in a preseason poll, Louisville won the league's regular season and its first tournament title. This year, the Cardinals are ranked No. 1 in the nation and carry a 19-game unbeaten streak.
Taking it a step further
Akron had more of a tradition when Porter took over. The Zips had reached the NCAA title game in 1986 and been to the NCAA Tournament 21 times, six of those under Lolla, whose Zips reached the Elite Eight in 2005.
Under Porter, the Zips are making their fourth consecutive NCAA appearance, having also reached the final 16 in 2008.
Coaching their respective teams for five seasons, Porter has gone 86-13-9 at Akron, Lolla 56-28-16 at Louisville.
Although Porter acknowledges the foundation Lolla left, Porter doesn't think Lolla believed Akron could become a perennial national-title contender.
''One of the reasons I was excited about this opportunity was I knew there would be a strong foundation to build on. At the same time I felt I could take it a step further,'' Porter said last week. ''I never felt that [the elite eight] was the pinnacle Akron could be at and I think Ken maybe did.
''I felt I had a formula and a blueprint to take it even further — through changing the style of play, through recruitment and through scheduling. We've done that. He deserves credit for building the program to where it was, but I think we've elevated it. That's rewarding to see that happening.''
Lolla said he never felt there was a glass ceiling for the Zips' program.
''No. I always felt, especially the last season, that we had everyone believing we were capable of winning the national championship,'' Lolla said in a telephone interview last week. ''Caleb's run last year was a continuation of what we were doing. Caleb is doing such a wonderful job there.''
Not an easy decision
When Lolla left Akron in December 2005, Louisville was going into its second season in the Big East Conference. He hooked his star to a university where basketball, and to a lesser extent football reign. In 2009, Louisville's athletic budget was $51 million, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2010, Akron's is about $24 million. Lolla said Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich has committed to building a soccer-specific facility, but with no timetable. Akron opened its renovated field this fall.
But leaving Akron was not an easy decision. Lolla's wife Tina is from Canton, and neither knew anyone in Kentucky's largest city.
''Overall, the resources are greater,'' Lolla said. ''There's no question at Akron I had support there, it's actually grown since I left. Give credit to Akron for recognizing what a successful program it was.