DWC men’s soccer earns 3rd straight title

By TOM KING

Staff Writer

NASHUA – Daniel Webster College men’s soccer assistant coach Brad Hosey was a prophet on Sunday.

He told Eagle junior midfielder Aaron Esparza that he would have a big assist in the team’s New England Collegiate Conference Championship game versus Regis College, and he was right on the money.

Esparza fed an open Kevin Herrera perfectly and Herrera fired a sharp shot that easily beat Pride goalie Manny Santiago in the 66th minute to give the Eagles a 1-0 victory and a conference three-peat.

"I picked my head up and saw there was something open in the corner," Esparza, a Dover native, said. "It’s something we practice all the time. … Before today, (Hosey) said, ‘You’re going to get the game-winning assist.’"

Hosey, ironically, was a senior on the Eagles’ NECC title team back when Esparza was a freshman. It’s the school’s fifth NECC crown overall, but third straight under head coach Matt Correia, who will gather the team on Monday to watch online to find out where they will head this weekend for the NCAA Division III tourney.

Sunday was the last time in the NECC finals for either program. DWC is closing its doors in May, adding to the emotion on Sunday, while Regis (10-8-2) is departing for the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. The two teams, seeds one and two, had played a scoreless tie during the regular season.

"For us to do what we’ve done the last few years, we really wanted to go out on top," Correia said, "and we really pushed to make sure we were able to do that. It wasn’t an easy game at all. (That is) a good Regis team."

The Eagles (13-5-3 overall) received three saves from goalie Cooper Hall, but none bigger than a dive to his right to knock away a shot by the Pride’s Don Gomez 18 minutes into the game. Gomez was hurt late in the game in a collision with Hall, which may have been a factor in Regis’ close attempts to tie it.

"We knew it was going to be a close game," Regis coach Renato Capobianco said. "It turned on one or two plays. If we can score on a clear-cut chance we had in the first half, it changes the perspective. They took their chance very well."

Herrera, a freshman from El Salvador via North Andover Brooks School (Mass.), usually converts on those chances. He leads the Eagles with nine goals, and was named tourney MVP.

"I couldn’t score without my teammates," Herrera said. "I told my teammate Esparza, next time he gets the ball, play it over the top, I’ll get it from you and I’ll finish, too. What do you know, he played it over the top, took me one touch, and it was in the goal. … We knew one goal was going to put them away."

Esparza has been part of many predictions, including his own.

"Before my freshman year I bet a friend of mine that I’d win a championship," he said. "And now I’ve won three."