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October 17. 2014 11:31PM

John Habib's City Sports: SNHU men’s soccer making history


A red-shirted Thomas Watson, a student at Trinity High School, and other members of the Central Crew Club prepare to launch at the New Hampshire Champions regatta last Sunday. The team competes at Boston’s famous Head of the Charles Regatta on Sunday. (MARK HAYWARD/Union Leader)

DURING THE epic 1988 NBA Eastern Conference semifinal Game 7 duel at the old Boston Garden between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, legendary sportscaster Brent Musburger said, “You are watching what greatness is all about.”

Today those same eight words can be applied to the Southern New Hampshire University men’s soccer team, the reigning NCAA Division II national champions.

The Penmen (11-0-1 overall, 8-0-1 NE-10), ranked No. 1 in the NSCAA poll, enter today’s 7 p.m. home game at Larkin Field against Assumption with a remarkable 35-game (33-0-2) unbeaten streak dating to last season. It’s the third longest unbeaten streak in Division II history, and the Penmen are now within reach of the record of 41 set by Southern Connecticut from 1989-91.

Tonight the Penmen look to extend their home winning streak to 21 at Larkin Field and their unbeaten streak to 31 straight against Northeast-10 opponents. The Penmen, 44-5-1 at home since 2011, are averaging 3.91 goals a game, second in the nation.

On Wednesday the Penmen, who have outscored opponents 49-8 this season, hammered St. Michael’s 6-0, their seventh shutout win of the year. Last season the Penmen posted a 22-1-1 record (losing the first game of the season to Post University), scored 62 goals and allowed just 10 with 14 shutouts.

Under head coach Marc Hubbard, the 2013 NSCAA Division II Coach of the Year and three-time NE-10 Coach of the Year with six straight NCAA berths on his impressive resume, the Penmen have shown they have the talent and confidence to win another national title.

“We’ve created more depth, adding 11 new players this season,” said Hubbard. “We have seven starters back and it’s been a work in progress trying to figure out what combination of players gives our team the best chance to win. We’re a confident team that plays at a high level.”

Last week SNHU faced adversity on the road against Merrimack, trailing 2-0. But the Penmen bounced back, getting goals from Sebastian Stezewski in the first half and then the tying goal in the 57th minute from Keegan Campbell to salvage the 2-2 tie.

The very next game on the road against then-No. 5 nationally-ranked Southern Connecticut, which was 9-0 entering that game, was a 5-0 Penmen dismantling of the Owls. That’s what great teams do. They face adversity, find a way to battle back, and then return to form.

“Merrimack is never an easy place to play. It’s a pretty hostile environment for many teams,” said Hubbard. “Against Southern Connecticut we were focused from the beginning and just played to our potential.”

If the Penmen can avoid major injuries to its star players this season, they could be destined to winning consecutive national championships.

“We’re not looking that far ahead,” said Hubbard. “It’s game to game and the goal is to keep getting better and not regressing. We do look for little things to motivate the guys for every game, but it always comes down to executing our plays and playing to our potential as a team.”

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In 2003, when the Thomas F. Sullivan Arena was built for ice hockey on the campus of St. Anselm College, someone at the time should have had the vision of building the arena for basketball too. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity for the college.

Because it didn’t happen, the basketball programs continue to play at historic Stoutenburgh Gymnasium, the Hawks’ home since 1960. College basketball fans in the area are aware that the NCAA has consistently declared the gym too small (1,200 capacity) to host regional tournaments.

It’s embarrassing to the college, coaches, players, students, alumni and local fans to be told that if St. Anselm want to host a regional tournament, it must do so across town at Southern New Hampshire University, their longtime rival, at the 2,000-seat Fieldhouse.

In recent times St. Anselm has built a football stadium (Grappone Stadium), a hockey rink (Sullivan Arena, which should have included seating on both sides) and has renovated the baseball field (Sullivan Park) with new bleachers and dugouts. No one can deny the college has the money to upgrade the 54-year-old Stoutenburgh Gym.

If there’s one sport that has consistently put the Hawks on the map since the days when the late, great Al Grenert coached, it’s been the men’s basketball program. Respect the program. Tear down the walls, add at least 800 more seats, and allow the Hawks the opportunity to host the NCAA regionals on campus.

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Students from Manchester Central and Trinity High will join forces when the Central Crew Club competes Sunday in Boston in the 50th Head of the Charles Regatta. Competition begins at 8 a.m. and continues through 5 p.m.Bill Anderson, president of the Central Crew Club,  which started in 2001 and funds the program, said the boats the kids use were donated by Notre Dame College in 2001 before the school’s 2002 closing.

The boats are stored at the Amoskeag Rowing Club boathouse in Hooksett, and club members practice on the Merrimack River. There’s a 55 members of the Central crew, 13 from Trinity.

“City Sports” is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.


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