University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer (8-0-1, 5-0-1) became just the third team ever to win their third straight conference title after a 2-0 victory over the Vermont Catamounts (5-2-1, 4-1-1) in Saturday’s America East Championship. The victory gave the Wildcats an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in what will be their fourth straight appearance. When the UNH Wildcats arrive in North Carolina they’ll be awaited by the Kentucky Wildcats (11-4-2, 3-3-1) who earned an at large bid into this year’s tournament.
UNH earned a first-round bye in this year’s tournament meaning they’ll kick off their action on May 2 from Greensboro, N.C. in what will be the first ever matchup between UNH and Kentucky.
The numbers battle leans heavily in the favor of UNH heading into the tournament. They’re scoring an average of 2.44 goals per game while only allowing 0.67. UK is only netting an average of 1.65 while allowing 0.94. UNH also has the edge in shots on goal percentage at 44% looking down at Kentucky’s 37%.
Senior captain Jacob Gould feels confident about UNH’s chances heading into North Carolina and doesn’t even think his side has reached their peak yet after only playing nine games to this point.
“We’re pretty close to our peak in terms of chemistry,” said Gould. “I don’t think we’re far off of what we can do. We’ll have good games here and there, bad games here and there, but at the end of the day I don’t think we’re far off from where we want to be.”
Head coach Marc Hubbard also remains confident and thinks this year’s spring season could add an extra benefit that his previous tournament teams haven’t had.
“I think the group’s in a good spot. It’s different in a positive way from previous years because the group’s really been together since September,” noted Hubbard. “In terms of understanding who these players are and being in a position to compete at the level needed to succeed in this tournament we feel really good about that right now.”
After playing two games over three days in the conference tournament, Hubbard explained that the team is simply enjoying the moment right now. With about two weeks between games, he also noted how this is a good opportunity to not have to rush any players back to the field who have been dealing with any sort of ailments.
Two weeks off can also present the issue of keeping a team motivated, but Hubbard doesn’t believe that’s the case with his Wildcats.
“I don’t think they need to be motivated. They know what’s ahead of them in terms of the bracket, I think that’s motivation in itself. The biggest thing is not letting outside distractions take a hold and to remain focused,” said Hubbard.
Gould isn’t trying to overcomplicate things ahead of their May 2 matchup with Kentucky. He simply explained that “not overthinking it is also a good strategy.”
Back in 2017 when the Wildcats received an at large bid to the tournament, they made it to the third round where they met the No. 2 Indiana who took down UNH by a 2-1 final. What remains as the program’s sole loss in Wildcat Stadium came one year later in the first round. Colgate came into Durham to beat Hubbard’s Wildcats and became the only team to do so since the stadium was built in 2015. A season ago UNH made it back to the second round before then ran into No. 23 Virginia Tech who took down the Wildcats 4-1.
The winner of UNH and Kentucky’s second-round matchup will face either Wake Forest (11-2-2, 3-0-2) or Coastal Carolina (9-4-2, 5-1-0) on Thursday, May 6.