Wildcats to see second round

  • University of New Hampshire junior Chris Pinkham, a 2017 Concord High graduate, keeps the ball away from Hartford’s Jovante Etienne during an America East men’s soccer semifinal match on April 15 in Durham. CHINA WONG photos / UNHWildcats.com

  • University of New Hampshire junior Chris Pinkham, a 2017 Concord High graduate, celebrates his goal in the 2021 America East men’s soccer championship game in Durham at Wildcat Stadium on April 17. UNH beat Vermont, 2-0, to win its third-straight AE title. CHINA WONG photos / UNHWildcats.com

UNHWildcats.com
Published: 4/28/2021 3:01:57 PM

DURHAM – Perhaps the simplest way to look at how far the University of New Hampshire men’s soccer program has come in the last half dozen years under coach Marc Hubbard, the hometown guy who grew up in Durham and starred in the sport for Oyster River High School, is conference titles.

From the time America East sponsored its first tournament in 1989 (it was the North Atlantic Conference back then), UNH had never won the tournament title until the Wildcats did it in convincing fashion with a 5-0 triumph over UMBC in the 2018 championship game.

Since then, Hubbard’s crew has rattled off two more titles, most recently with a 2-0 victory over Vermont on April 17.

UNH (8-0-1) is headed to the NCAA Division I men’s soccer tournament for the fourth straight season and faces the University of Kentucky in a second-round game on Sunday at noon at Bryan Park Soccer Complex in Greensboro, N.C. There are 36 teams in the tournament, which begins with first round games Thursday and all contests will be played in the Cary, N.C., area over the next several weeks.

“We’re one step closer to getting to that College Cup, which is really our next goal,” Hubbard said after UNH knocked off Vermont. “Once you’re there, as I’ve seen firsthand at Southern New Hampshire, anything can happen at that point.”

Hubbard led Southern New Hampshire University to the NCAA Division II men’s soccer championship in 2013.

He has not been shy about declaring his intention to turn the Wildcats into a national power, one ready and able to compete for the NCAA championship, since arriving at UNH for the 2015 season.

Hubbard’s staff includes three coaches who were with him in those SNHU glory days – associate head coach Rich Weinrebe, volunteer goalkeeping coach Dave Williams and director of operations Andrew Pesci – and they, along with assistant coach Nick Thompson, have the Wildcats right back in the thick of things again.

UNH is 8-0-1 and beat Hartford and Vermont, both by 2-0 scores, to become just the third team in history to win three straight America East tournament championships.

Chris Pinkham, a 2017 Concord High graduate, scored the first goal in the game against Vermont, the first tally of the season for the hard-working junior who has played all over the field for the Wildcats. Pinkham also had an assist against Hartford. UNH freshman defender Liam Bennett graduated from Concord in 2019 and has started in seven of the nine games this season for the Wildcats, including the two conference tournament games.

UNH has already become much more of a soccer school than ever before and hopes to continue that trend.

How?

“(By) making a huge impact in the NCAA tournament,” Pinkham said. “By going far (in the NCAAs) and hopefully going further than we have ever been before.”

UNH earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs in 2017 and won games against Fairfield and Dartmouth before falling to No. 2-ranked Indiana, 2-1, in the third round. Indiana eventually lost in the title game to Stanford in two overtimes.

Colgate ousted UNH from the tournament, 1-0, in the first round in 2018. In the last tournament played, UNH beat Fairleigh-Dickinson in its first-round game and lost to Virginia Tech in the second in 2019.

“I just told the group it doesn’t matter if we’re playing FDU last year, Colgate in the first round, Fairfield in the first round, every game is close,” Hubbard said after the NCAA draw was announced. “You’ve got to be mentally prepared for that. So we’re excited to get a real good team right away that we have time to prepare for.”

Kentucky is 11-4-2 overall and played games both in the fall and spring this year. The Conference USA Wildcats were 6-3-2 in the spring portion of the schedule. They qualified for the NCAAs for the seventh time in nine years under coach Johan Cedegren.

They are averaging 1.65 goals a game through the season and are giving up 0.94 a game.

Eythor Bjorgolfsson, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from Norway, is one of three Kentucky players with four goals and he also has four assists. Juniors Daniel Evans and Brock Lindow have scored four goals each as well.

Senior Victor Menudier, playing up front for the first time in his collegiate career, leads UNH with six goals. A transfer from Presbyterian College, Menudier scored three of UNH’s four goals in the America East tournament and was named the Outstanding Player of the event.

Grad student Paul Mayer has four goals. Sophomore Bilal Kamal and senior Linus Fallberg have three goals each.

UNH is averaging 2.44 goals a game, up from 1.95 a game in 2019.

Grad student Alejandro Robles was the America East Goalkeeper of the Year for the second season in a row and is allowing 0.46 goals a game and has four shutouts.

The winner of the UNH-Kentucky match advances to a third-round game against the winner of a contest between Wake Forest and Coastal Carolina.

The two-week stretch between the America East title game and the Kentucky game gives UNH a chance to get some players healthy and regroup for the NCAA tournament.

“It’s just getting the legs underneath us and getting a little bit more focused in terms of Kentucky and what we need to do to stop them and to beat them,” Hubbard said. “We can be really super prepared for that and be in a position to finetune some things like restarts so we can be set up for a good little run, if we are lucky enough to advance.”

Free kicks

■Tournament games will be streamed at ncaa.com.

■UNH is in the tournament for the fourth consecutive year and fifth time overall.

■The Wildcats qualified as an at-large team in 1994 for their only other appearance before the current streak began.

■Because of the pandemic, all tournament games will be played in the Cary, N.C. area.

■The tournament begins with first-round games on Thursday.

■Second-round games are Sunday, third-round May 6 and quarterfinals May 10.

■The College Cup, including the semifinals and finals, are set for May 14 and May 17 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Carey.




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