DURHAM — The big moments continue to pile up for the University of New Hampshire men’s soccer team.
The Wildcats defeated Hartford 1-0 on Saturday night to win their second straight America East tournament title. Paired with a regular-season championship and a top-20 national ranking, the Wildcats find themselves near the top of the pile ahead of this week’s NCAA Tournament.
The tournament bracket will be released Monday at 1 p.m.
UNH racked up a 14-1-3 record this season and scored three or more goals in a game this season six times.
However, the success starts from the back and a defensive unit that has shut out opponents a dozen times this season.
“It definitely starts with our defense and shutting teams out,” said UNH junior centerback Josh Bauer, of Bedford. “We know we’re going to get a lot of chances because we play a good brand of soccer and sometimes it’s our night and we’re four in the net. We know what we’re capable of and we trust our defense to get shutouts and ultimately see results and get wins.”
Bauer is among Granite Staters who have left an imprint on the season. Bauer was named America East Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Chris Arling (Windham), Jack Doherty (Meriden), and Jacob Gould (Exeter) have all scored at least twice this year, and Gould is tied for the lead on the team with three game-winning goals.
Kyle Brewster (New Hampton) has been an anchor in central midfield for the club all season. His ability to jump into the attack paid dividends on Saturday when he fed Bauer with a beautiful cross that was headed home for the game’s lone goal.
Brewster, situated at central holding midfield, also drops back to assist with the defense and start the counter.
“I think a lot of our focus this year has been offensive play and making sure we’re turning with the ball and our first thought is going forward,” Brewster said. “Last year we were content moving it around the back and maintaining possession where this year we’re not happy if we’re not scoring goals.”
The veterans on the team have been through the highs and lows that success can bring. Two years ago, the Wildcats made a run to the Sweet 16, defeating in-state rival Dartmouth along the way, before losing to national power Indiana.
Last year the Wildcats hosted a first-round tournament game against Colgate and saw their season end, 1-0. To date, the Colgate loss is the team’s only defeat at Wildcat Stadium.
“Experience is definitely a part of it,” Bauer said. “We saw how quickly it can be taken away from you like last year, losing in the first round. I think we have guys now that have been here two, three, four years now that know the system, know what it takes, know what it’s like to be in these big moments.”
Coach Marc Hubbard, a Durham native, said he takes immense pride building a nationally ranked program, thanks in part to local talent. For him, the next goal is to make a run to the College Cup and work toward being the most prominent sport on campus.
“We want to turn it into the most popular thing at UNH,” Hubbard said. “That’s a daily grind and challenge. We’ve gotten it so the best players in New Hampshire are interested in playing here. We’re always wanting those guys to come. To be able to do it with some New Hampshire guys and a mix of other guys is a real special thing in my back yard.”