December 7, 2013
There are some seasons where everything just falls into place and where dreams of championship glory seem more than a passing fancy. And so it was for the SNHU men's soccer team which saw its incredible season culminate with a 2-1 NCAA Division II championship win over Carson-Newman at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, GA Saturday afternoon.
"The program just continued to get stronger and stronger in every way," said Coach Marc Hubbard, who in his sixth year with the Penmen, led the team to a 22-1-1 record. "You could see it in our recruiting and in our performance on the field. We knew that this year, we were putting out our most complete team and that if we stayed healthy and got some good bounces, we could go all the way."
Saturday's championship win, the result of second half goals by Miguel Carneiro and Pierre Omanga, resulted in the first second title ever for the Penmen and the first since 1989. The 22 victories also tied the program record for most wins in a season, reached in both 1988 and 1989.
The importance of the victory was certainly not lost on SNHU Director of Athletics and Recreation Anthony Fallacaro who is in his first year with the program.
"Only one team can win the last game of the year in NCAA postseason play and that honor rests with the Penmen," he said. "National championships are the ultimate goal of every university and every team in the country, so when you win one, you know you earned it. I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls since Saturday from alumni and colleagues recognizing what a special achievement this is for our university. I have thanked them and told them all the credit goes to our student athletes, coaches, and support staff for bringing such positive acclaim to Penmen athletics."
One alum who was overjoyed with the victory was SNHU Sport Management Professor Doug Blais (’98), a former SNHU soccer player himself.
"This is a very exciting time for SNHU and I am proud to be an alum and faculty member,” he said. “The university continues to grow and thrive and our excellence in athletics is a direct reflection of this."
"As I was watching the game via the NCAA website, I was happy for Marc Hubbard and the coaching staff. They're extremely hard workers, especially as recruiters for our school,” said alum Peter Perich (’76), a former SNHU goalkeeper who holds the record for most saves in a career with 549. “I was also proud to see three native Manchester young men playing for the Penmen, two of them starters and all-conference players. Two of them came from Memorial High School, my alma mater and a program that I developed after graduating from New Hampshire College. Last, it was just amazing to see how far soccer has come since the old days!"
En route to the title, the Penmen got an unexpected boost by the arrival of 45 students who were flown to the game by the university early Saturday morning. On Friday, a raffle was held and over 200 students applied for a coveted spot to watch history in the making.
"President LeBlanc was thrilled to be able to send our fan base over to Georgia to support the team,” SNHU Dean of Students Heather Lorenz said. "We had to move really quickly on this one after the semifinal game and book the flights and hold the raffle in short order. This was a great way for us to ensure that our team would be well represented in the stands by a very loud cheering section."
Perhaps the person cheering the loudest at the game was nine-year-old Ryan Mentor, who at age one was diagnosed with an Optic Pathway Glioma brain tumor. Ryan, who has been "adopted" by the Penmen soccer team was the subject of the team’s rallying cry "Fight Like Ryan" and a mainstay at Larkin Field. His spirit was, and continues to be, an inspiration for a team, that refused to quit no matter what the situation on the field.
"There were several special memories from this championship run, but for me, I think it was watching the team celebrating and holding the National Championship Trophy with Ryan Menter, while the parents and fans we flew down to Georgia chanted the team slogan, "Fight Like Ryan," said Anthony Fallacaro. “That scene and hugging Ryan’s mom after the game as we recounted that moment to each other were my favorite recollections from a season that contained a hundred great memories."
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