Cats’ phenom transfers closer to home, takes goals with him

Dan Murtaugh

Freshman phenom Tito Lara, who led the Wildcats with six goals, 13 points and 31 shots, transferred to nearby Division II Lewis University over the break.

Lara said he switched schools because he wasn’t comfortable at Northwestern and wanted to be part of a more attacking style of play.

“Northwestern, we’re a more defensive team, and I’m more of an attacking type of player,” Lara said.

Lara helped spark the Cats to a huge turnaround this season, going from a 1-13-3 record in 2001 to an 8-12 record this year. Lara led the Big Ten with five game-winning goals. He will play in the fall for the Lewis Flyers, which finished this season ranked No. 13 in the NCAA Division II.

Head coach Tim Lenahan said he was disappointed Lara left, but it wouldn’t “deter the team in our quest to continue to build the program.”

Lenahan said Lara’s departure will be easier to deal with because the team has a lot more time to adjust to playing without their leading scorer. Lenahan said freshman Eric Brin will be given a chance to fill Lara’s cleats as the team’s striker once practice resumes. The coaches also still have time to recruit strikers, Lenahan said.

Lenahan said that in his conversations with Lara, he sensed the freshman was going to Lewis because it was closer to his home and family. Lewis is in Romeoville, Ill., just about 20 minutes from Lara’s home in Joliet. Lenahan said he and the other coaches will try to offer more support for younger players in the future.

“(Tito) was a little bit shy and reserved,” Lenahan said. “Our coaching staff has to be a little more sensitive for kids like that. We have to realize the adjustment to college is not the same for everyone.”

Lenahan said he and Lara hugged and parted on good terms, with Lenahan even calling Lewis’ coach to help smooth Lara’s transition to his new team. Lara said he contacted each of his teammates in person to say good bye before he left.

Lenahan said he wishes the best for Lara, but wishes the freshman would have stuck it out at NU — if not for the team, then for himself.

“Freshman year is a tough time — plus soccer — but we all make it through and come out the other end stronger and tougher,” Lenahan said. “I don’t think Tito gave himself a chance to do that.”