DWC men’s soccer aims for NECC crown, NCAA tourney win

NASHUA – Monday was the first day of the rest of their college soccer lives.

At least that’s how the players and coaches on the Daniel Webster College men’s soccer team feel. Cars pulled into the school lots, players reported to admissions to register, get their financial aid approved and move into housing. A team meeting was held in the afternoon and the Eagles are scheduled to hit the practice field Tuesday in the quest for not only their third straight New England Collegiate Conference championship, but first ever NCAA Divsion III tournament win.

And maybe one more thing.

"We’d like to be ranked in New England this year, which still hasn’t happened," Eagles coach Matt Correia said, his team unbeaten in conference play in 2015 and 18-4 overall. "We won 16 games in a row last year and still weren’t top 10 in New England, so we’re hoping for that. It’s a bit frustrating. It’s a little bit of something these guys have on their shoulders that they want to knock down. We’re shooting for that this year as well.

"It’s an exciting day. The guys are here bright and early. They’re hungry; they want to win another one. Once you win a couple of championships, the motivation to do that is always there."

Last year, the Eagles came oh, so close to winning their first NCAA tourney game ever, losing to the nation’s third-ranked team, Montclair State, by a 3-2 margin. Going into this season, they have something they haven’t had in the past – experience. They will have five senior starters that have been in the lineup since their freshman year when the season opens Sept. 1 at home versus Emmanuel.

"That’s huge," Correia said. "It’s great to have a nucleus that are going to help us. But they’ll have to help out the younger guys who haven’t been in this position. … We’re challenging ourselves to do more this year. We have some goals."

Local products Ian Hutchinson (Campbell), last year’s NECC Player of the Year, heads the list along with Alvirne alum Marcos Vieira Filho, both up front. The other three are Chasen Congreves, Michael Ottman (both center backs) and another midfielder, Eusebio Marote, of Lowell, Mass.

How long have they waited for this season to start?

"Since the last day of the season last year," Vieira Filho, who had 11 goals last year, said. "The fact that we got to that point last year we know we can do it this year. We have so much confidence after that game, we know we can make a run at the tournament this year, not just win the conference title."

"We’re hoping to get into the NCAAs and do something about it," Hutchinson, who had 12 goals and six assists last year, said. "We’ve had some pretty successful seasons. … Last year was an amazing feeling to win another one and compete with that third-ranked team. I want to win an NCAA game this time and try to make a statement for Daniel Webster."

And, as is Correia’s way, there’s some youth sprinkled in. But until all the paperwork is finished, the freshman class will be a work in progress through the week.

"I think we’re going to have similar situations where two or three freshmen play key roles for us," Correia said. "We have the older guys to help them with the transition."

It’s not all rosy. The Eagles lost two key players from last year’s squad who were immediate contributors as freshmen – NECC Rookie of the Year Joseano Tavares, due to academics (they hope he can make it back down the road) and Liberia native Marcus Marshall transferred to Division I Farleigh Dickinson.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were spoiled in goal with four years of Brookline’s Sean Hamilton, two-time NECC Goalie of the Year. But in the tourney loss last November, Cooper Hall, now a junior, was outstanding.

"The guys are super confident with him between the pipes," Correia said. "He’ll be great for us, he’s very good."

Correia knows a new year brings a new team with new challenges and a new personality.

"I think this team might be one of our deeper teams that we’ve had," Correia said. "Every year, every team is different. It’s a matter of figuring out your identity, taking some licks along the way. It’s not going to be pretty all year long. … Can you take your licks, learn from your mistakes and hit your peak and be ready to go when the playoffs start?"

Regis, Newbury, and Lesley appear to be the main NECC competition. Meanwhile, Correia and AD Chris Gilmore strengthened the nonconference schedule, dropping four teams and replacing them with Endicott, UMass-Dartmouth, Dean, and a biggie, Keene State (that one at home on Sept. 7).

"We had a lot of playmakers and a lot of offense," Hutchinson said. "It might change around a bit this year. But I think another year of seniority, I think we can crank it out and get another conference championship."

"I literally waited all summer for this," Vieira Filho said. "It’s fun to get it started again."

Rivier revving up

Across town, the Rivier University men’s soccer team hopes to improve on last year’s 3-11-1 campaign, and the Raiders have a good shot at doing so, having lost just four seniors.

Meanwhile, Rivier’s best fall team, women’s volleyball, will open its season on the road in New York on Sept. 2 at the New York University Labor Day Invitational.

Opening games for local women’s soccer: Daniel Webster visits Pine Manor in Boston, while Rivier is at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Mass., both on Saturday Sept. 3.

Before he begins men’s basketball in October, Nashua’s Lance Bisson begins his full-time Rivier coaching career in September handling the Riv men’s and women’s cross country teams.