Concord connection for UNH’s Pinkham, Bennett

  • Liam Bennett (22), a 2019 Concord High graduate, competes for the University of New Hampshire men's soccer team against Vermont on March 12 in Durham at Wildcat Stadium. Bennett, a redshirt freshman defender, has started all four games for No. 14 UNH this spring. UNH Athletics—Courtesy

  • Liam Bennett, a 2019 Concord High graduate, competes for the University of New Hampshire men's soccer team against Stony Brook University on March 19 in Stony Brook, NY. Bennett, a redshirt freshman defender, has started all four games for No. 14 UNH this spring. UNH Athletics—Courtesy

  • Liam Bennett (center), a 2019 Concord High graduate, competes for the University of New Hampshire men's soccer team against Stony Brook University on March 19 in Stony Brook, NY. Bennett, a redshirt freshman defender, has started all four games for No. 14 UNH this spring. UNH Athletics—Courtesy

  • Chris Pinkham (19), a 2017 Concord High graduate, competes for the University of New Hampshire men’s soccer team against Vermont on March 12 in Durham at Wildcat Stadium. Pinkham, a junior, has played in all four games for the No. 14 Wildcats, and has played four different positions in the process.

  • Chris Pinkham (left), a 2017 Concord High graduate, delivers a kick for the University of New Hampshire men’s soccer team against Vermont on March 12 in Durham. Courtesy of UNH Athletics

Monitor staff
Published: 3/25/2021 12:40:34 PM

England, Mexico, France, Brazil, Italy – players have come from all those soccer hotbeds to join the University of New Hampshire men’s team, currently ranked No. 14 in the country. In the middle of the international talent are two kids from Concord – junior Chris Pinkham and redshirt freshman Liam Bennett.

“It’s a small world when you think about it that way,” Pinkham said. “It’s kind of cool on the field we have a good connection, we know how each other is going to play because we played together growing up. And having that common Concord bond makes us stronger on the field, and it’s more fun that way.”

Bennett has started all four games for the Wildcats (3-0-1) and ranks third on the team in minutes. The 2019 Concord High graduate played the first three games this spring at left back and the last one, a 2-1 win at Stony Brook last Friday, at center back. Pinkham, who graduated from CHS in 2017, came off the bench in the first three games of the season and played right back and both outside midfield positions in UNH’s 4-4-2 formation. He started on the back line with Bennett against Stony Brook, playing the entire game at left back.

“Both of these guys fit the mold of being very industrious, blue collar, hard-working players, guys that you want in your locker room and you want on the field when you’re, basically, going into battle,” UNH coach Marc Hubbard said. “They are they type of guys you can rely on and you can trust, and you know they are going to sacrifice everything for the team.”

Sacrifice has been a buzz word around the program during the pandemic. The normal fall 2020 season was canceled, but the team still practiced five days a week. Like all college students, they are missing out on huge chunks of what should be an exploratory and fun time in their lives, but they’re holding themselves to an even higher standard for their teammates and the team’s common goals.

“It’s hard to cut out social life right now, we’re giving up a lot, but our team is close and we have each other’s backs no matter what,” Bennett said. “Dealing with adversity has probably been the biggest thing for us, there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes just to play one game. We’re just trying to do the best we can because we want to make it to the NCAA tournament and we want to go far.”

The Wildcats have handled the off-field challenges with aplomb so far. They have had zero positive COVID tests during the last year and their team GPA is the highest it’s ever been.

“I think it’s easily the hardest year ever in their lives, to be in college and have to deal with this is terrible,” Hubbard said. “They’re sacrificing so much and in a way it’s great they have something else keeping them focused.”

Everyone in the program was grateful when the first game of this spring season arrived on Feb. 26 at UMass-Lowell, but it had been an especially long wait for both Pinkham and Bennett. Pinkham played in just two games during the 2019 season as he fought to come back from injury, and Bennett redshirted all of 2019.

“It was pretty awesome to step on the field (against UMass-Lowell), we had to go through so much just to get to that point,” Bennett said. “But once I started playing I was just focused more on the team and trying to win.”

The Wildcats lost three of their four starting defenders, and their starting defensive midfielder, from the 2019 team that claimed the program’s second straight America East championship and made a third straight NCAA tournament appearance. So, Hubbard knew he would have to revamp the defense this season, and the focused, athletic and skilled Bennett made himself integral to those rebuilding plans.

“For Liam, it’s his daily approach, and that started from the first day he came here in 2019 and he’s kept it up every day with how he handles himself and how hard he works,” Hubbard said. “He’s young, so he’s being thrown into games and learning as he goes, like other players who just got here, but I think this is a team that is definitely going to keep improving as long as we stay healthy.”

Bennett was a four-year starter at Concord, helping the Crimson Tide win Division I state championships in 2015 and 2017. He was a First Team D-I pick in 2017 and 2018 and was an All-New England selection in 2018. Pinkham played at Concord for two years and posted 15 goals and 22 assists for the Tide as he earned Second Team D-I honors as a sophomore. He then played for Seacoast United Academy for two years before going to UNH.

“Liam has been playing excellent,” Pinkham said. “He’s really taking it in stride his first year starting and playing every game, and being a redhsirt freshman acting as if he’s an older player on the team, he’s been exceptional.”

Pinkham was one of five UNH players who opted out of the fall 2020 semester. He lived at home in Concord, worked several jobs and played soccer with the Massachusetts-based Mass United in the UPSL, a pro-development league that has more than 300 teams all over the country.

“That really helped me because I had been injured for long and hadn’t played in many games,” Pinkham said, “so this really helped me get ready for the season.”

It’s an abbreviated regular-season schedule with only seven games. UNH hosts Hartford on Friday and UMass-Lowell on April 2, and finishes up at Vermont on April 9. After that, the Wildcats will look for another America East title and trip to the NCAAs. The AE champ will get an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney, but that event has been reduced from 48 to 36 teams this year, so there will only be 12 at-large bids given out to teams that didn’t win their conference championships.

“We want to succeed at the highest level,” Pinkham said. “We want to get back to the NCAA tournament and we want to do well at that tournament, and in order to do that we have to sacrifice a tremendous amount. If one person gets coronavirus then maybe we’re shut down for a  couple of games and what does that look like heading into the tournament? We just don’t know, so that’s why the biggest thing we talk about as a group is sacrifice.”




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