College Soccer: Penmen find themselves as surprise hosts
MANCHESTER - No one saw it coming, but Southern New Hampshire University is certainly embracing it.
"It's a pleasant surprise," said Chad Mason, associate director of athletics at SNHU, which is hosting the first and second rounds of both the NCAA Division II women's and men's soccer tournaments this weekend at George Larkin Field.
On the women's side SNHU (13-5-3), the No. 5 seed, will meet fourth-seeded Dowling College (13-3-2) on Friday at 3 p.m. The winner will advance to Sunday's second round noon start against top-seeded LIU-Post (15-2-2).
The SNHU men (17-3) earned their fifth straight NCAA tournament berth as the No. 2 seed. On Friday at 6 p.m., No. 6 seed Franklin Pierce University (11-5-2) will play No. 3 seed Merrimack (14-3-2). The winner will advance to Sunday's 3 p.m. second-round game against the Penmen.
The SNHU women earned an automatic berth into the field of 48 by capturing the program's first Northeast-10 tournament championship Sunday with a 1-0 win over Adelphi University. It's the program's third NCAA appearance, with the others coming in 1997 and 2003. Dowling also earned automatic qualification when it edged Bridgeport 1-0 in the East Coast Conference title game on Sunday.
"First of all our women's team is having a great year." said Mason. "They're peaking at the right time, certainly getting hot at the right time. We were not expecting to host the women's tournament but, unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy with all its devestation caused LIU-Post (located in Brookville, N.Y.) to withdraw its bid to host the tournament as the No. 1 seed."
Mason said at that point the NCAA decided SNHU was the place to move the tournament. "I'd like to think that the main reason the NCAA felt comfortable about letting us host the tournament is because we have a nice track record of hosting these events. We've proven to the NCAA that we're very capable of running it."
It's already been a banner year for SNHU. Their baseball program hosted the NCAA regionals last spring and Mason pointed out that both the men's and women's tennis programs have qualified for NCAA tournament play the last two straight seasons.
"It's a great moment for our entire athletic department," said Mason. "It's something we're all proud of here."
There's not much history between Dowling and SNHU in women's soccer. Greg Royce, sports information director at SNHU, said both programs have met just once, resulting in a 3-2 Penmen win in 2009.
In the Penmen's 1-0 win against Adelphi Sunday at Larkin Field, Ashley Jaskula scored midway through the first half and Samantha Whittier posted her third straight shutout in goal.
SNHU has received contributions from local players on the team. Senior goalie Maggie Weldon, a product of Manchester West, has compiled an 8-5-3 record in 16 game starts with an 0.89 GAA. She has three shutouts. Senior midfielder Kaleigh Roberge, who played for Manchester Memorial, has bolstered the offense this season with seven goals and seven assists. She has five game-winning goals on the season.
Senior midfielder/forward Kasey Morrison of Hampton also has two goals and two assists. The women enter Friday's game with a four-game winning streak, including three straight shutout wins against New Haven (2-0 at home, NE-10 quarterfinals), St. Rose (1-0 semifinal win on the road) and Adelphi for the program's first NE-10 tournament crown.
The SNHU men captured their fourth Northeast-10 tournament championship on Sunday. They're making their fifth straight and 18th overall appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament. Last Sunday in their 2-1 NE-10 finals win against No. 1 seed Merrimack, Mohamed Toufik's second half goal was the game-winner, snapping Merrimack's 13-game unbeaten streak. Sam Kelley of Bedford scored his third season goal in that game for SNHU.
Local products Yannick Kabala (Manchester Central) and Christian Rodriguez (Manchester Memorial) have helped SNHU win its last five games and seven of its last eight. Kabala, a sophomore midfielder, has two goals and one assist this season while Rodriguez, a senior midfielder, has five assists.
Junior goalie Dom DiMaggio has been solid in nets. He carrie a 15-3 record with nine shutouts and a 0.50 GAA. He has allowed nine goals.
During the regular season the Penmen beat Merrimack 2-1 in North Andover on Sept. 11 and four days later lost to Franklin Pierce in Rindge, 1-0.
The Penmen are just the third school to claim both NE-10 soccer crowns for men and women in the same year. Springfield College did it in 1989 while Franklin Pierce achieved the feat in 2006.
Ticket prices for each game are $6 for adults and $2 for students with ID, seniors, and children 12 and under. Children under 2 are free.
SNHU students with valid ID will be admitted free on Friday courtesy of the SNHU Student Government Association, and also on Sunday should the Penmen advance.