MANCHESTER — Just after 12:30 p.m. Sunday, an estimated crowd of 300 people gathered inside the entrance to Larkin Field. Music from the press box was blaring from the speakers and across the field, the scoreboard, in red lights, brightly displayed Saturday’s NCAA Division II national championship men’s soccer final score from Evans, Ga.: SNHU 2, CM 1 (CM for Carson-Newman of Jefferson City, Tenn.).
Signs like “Penmen Pride,” “Welcome Home Penmen” and “Congrats on a Great Season” were proudly held high at 1:16 p.m. when, led by a Manchester police escort from Exit 6 off I-293 to the campus, the bus pulled in and stopped in front of the field.
The crowd in unison roared loudly when head coach Marc Hubbard, who earned his 100th career win, departed from the bus first. He was followed by the team members and coaches. Penmen goalie Dom DiMaggio got the loudest applause as he hoisted the NCAA championship trophy over his head for all to see as he made his way into the heart of the crowd.
The title was the team’s second title in school history, first since 1989.
“It’s starting to sink in a little bit now” said former Manchester Memorial standout Christian Rodriguez, a senior who completed his career as a national champion. “This is a great atmosphere,” he said. “Seeing all the people here, this is something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. I guess the season is really over because we’re not practicing tomorrow.”
Over the weekend, the Penmen capped a season-ending 23-game unbeaten streak with a pair of 2-1 victories in the NCAA Division II Final Four Tournament at Blanchards Woods Park in Evans, Ga. Last Thursday, the Penmen defeated No. 14 ranked Rockhurst University (17-4-3) of Kansas City, Mo., and closed out their memorable season Saturday knocking off unranked Carson-Newman (16-6-1).
According to the NCAA, the Penmen’s official record will be 22-1-1. The penalty kick shootout victory against Mercyhurst in the NCAA quarterfinals will go down as a tie.
Courtesy of Southern New Hampshire University, which paid for the trip, 45 students were selected from a lottery to attend Saturday’s national title game. The students left campus Saturday morning, boarded a plane in Boston, landed in Charlotte, N.C., and took a two-hour bus ride to Evans. Ga. The students returned home in time to greet their champions.
As for Saturday’s national game, the turning point came in the 86th minute with the Penmen leading 1-0 on a goal from Miguel Carneiro in the 74th minute. SNHU All-American Pierre Omanga was dribbling toward the net when he was confronted by Carson-Newman goalie Rumwald le Guevel. “He (le Guevel) came out and as he went for the ball, he grabbed my foot,” said Omanga, who was awarded a penalty kick.
Two weeks ago, Omanga said he changed his strategy shooting penalty kicks. “Teams scout all the time and I know they knew I always shoot for the left corner,” said Omanga. “So two weeks ago I decided to change things up.”
On Saturday, it appeared Carson-Newman had the book on Omanga. Just as Omanga went to take his shot, le Guevel lunged to his right, anticipating Omanga was shooting for the left corner. Instead, the shot went to the right side, giving SNHU a huge 2-0 lead.
“That was the game because the way we play defense, we knew we were not allowing two goals,” said Omanga. SNHU finished its season allowing 11 goals and scoring 61.
Last week, Manchester Central standout Yannick Kabala told the story about a picture hanging in the team’s locker room showing the Penmen sad and depressed following last year’s season-ending NCAA quarterfinal loss to Mercyhurst University at Larkin Field.
“A new picture is going up,” Kabala said. “We reached our goal. It’s a different feeling this year with a happier ending. We’re national champs.”