Over the last few years, the most consistently successful team at the University of New Hampshire has been the men’s soccer team.
Led by Durham-born coach Marc Hubbard, the Wildcats have built themselves into a top-30 program and have made the last two NCAA tournaments. A run to the 2017 Sweet 16, an America East title last year, and a combined record of 25-8-7 over the last two years have propelled UNH into the national conversation.
And the Wildcats have done it largely on the back of strong talent from the Granite State.
That was on display Thursday night when Windham native Chris Arling had the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Boston University in the Cats’ season opener. Arling, finally returning to form after battling injuries the last two years, is one of seven Granite Staters on the roster. Three started Thursday and two more came off the bench.
“Once we get on to the field all that stuff kind of goes away,” Arling said of the New Hampshire connection. “Where we really see the New Hampshire presence is off the field. When we go up to the tailgates after the games we have all these local parents supporting everyone. It’s been nice playing alongside these guys from New Hampshire the last few years now, and hopefully we can continue to bring in a crop of local guys in the years to come as well.”
Arling and upperclassmen Josh Bauer (Bedford) and Kyle Brewster (New Hampton) have taken on leadership roles. Jack Doherty (Meriden) has been a consistent presence on the attacking line for years.
“We have a combination of lead by example and lead by voice,” Arling said. “Completely taking the coaches out of it, they provide a good voice, but on the field we have a lot of guys constantly critiquing each other in a positive way, getting each other through it.”
Brewster is one of the key players for the Wildcats. A floater on the field, Brewster plays where needed from holding midfield, to the backline, to jumping into the attack.
“He covers a lot of ground,” Hubbard said of Brewster. “That’s a really good spot for him, and he’s confident and understands it. Happy to have him here.”
The last two years have been building toward this campaign. The Wildcats are as deep a team as there is in the country. Of the starting 11 from last year’s NCAA tournament defeat to Colgate, six started on Thursday including Doherty, Brewster and Bauer.
The biggest issue this year will be finding ways to score. The Wildcats scored a goal or less in 12 of their 18 games last season and scored more than two just three times.
“Our midfield’s super deep,” Hubbard said. “We’ve got a lot of options there, good depth at forward. We’ve got a lot of veteran depth. We’ve just got to figure out who’s going to score the goals. We’re always defensively stingy, but we’ve got to score more.”
The Colgate loss was the team’s first loss at Wildcat Stadium and ended the 2018 season far sooner than expected. With most of the top players back, and Arling back from injury, the expectations are high.
“Internally our expectation is win regular season, win the conference,” Arling said. “Undefeated at home is really important to us. One of the top teams in the country in goals against average and defense is huge for us. We really are expecting to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament this year. We’re talking final four by the end of the year.”
The Wildcats return to Durham after a four-game road trip on Sept. 18 against in-state rival Dartmouth.