DURHAM, N.H. – After a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and third straight America East Championship, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer team is back. The Wildcats open their season Thursday, Aug. 26, at Boston University (BU). The team is coming into the fall season ranked 20th in the nation with plenty of talent and depth to fuel another successful campaign.
Head coach Marc Hubbard said the team is ready and can feel the potential inside the locker room.
“I think this team feels like they can accomplish something special, based on the personalities and the talent we have in the room,” said Hubbard.
The UNH squad is full of playmakers and veteran talent – 26 of 29 players from last year’s squad have returned to Durham – but the exit of Alejandro Robles has left big cleats to fill. The 2020-21 America East Goalkeeper of the Year was vital in UNH’s title run last season. Now, Coach Hubbard feels Robles’ successor had emerged.
“I think Jassem [Koleilat] has definitely separated himself,” said Hubbard. “But I do think it’s a deep core, and making sure we have consistency from all of our goalkeepers is going to be really helpful in terms of getting us to where we want to be.”
No matter which goalkeeper is between the sticks, the Wildcats will have the assurance that any attack must get through First-Team All-American fifth-year defender Bridger Hansen. Hansen leads a defense that allowed only eight goals in 10 games last season.
Up top, the Wildcats will look to graduate student and Third-Team All-American forward Paul Mayer. Mayer was second on the team in goals (five) and points (12) last season. Mayer will once again be joined by fellow Frenchman and forward Victor Menudier. The graduate student led UNH in goals (six) and points (14) in nine games. UNH’s potent attack was good for 22 goals in all competitions last spring.
Surrounding UNH’s established playmakers is a squad with vast depth and talent. Coach Hubbard said this brings the best out of his players.
“[Depth] definitely helps with the competition within practice daily. So, it kind of pushes everyone to keep working and keep each other honest,” said Hubbard.
He added that spots might need to be filled at the drop of a hat with the ongoing pandemic.
“With COVID, you don’t know what’s going to happen. So, if guys have to pop out for that, we feel good about our guys being able to step up.”
Adding to that depth are six new additions to the Wildcats’ roster. Grad student goalkeeper Peter Swinkles, first-year forward Wrenano Honeyghan, junior Gustavo Rodriguez, graduate students Nils Buchwalder and Johann Von Knebel, and first-year midfielder Luke Fagerson.
Hubbard said that the new players would need some time to find their roles and figure out how the team plays.
“I think some of the new guys that are coming in are still trying to find their way tactically into the system and the school and how we go about things. So that’s always an adjustment,” said Hubbard.
The ‘Cats are on the road in their season opener against BU, and Hubbard is hoping last season’s momentum will keep rolling into fall 2021.
“Having a sound success and found a good rhythm in the spring definitely helped to put us in a better place right now,” he said.
The team will need to show up strong out of the gate. Hubbard emphasized the mental battle his players will need to win if they want to start the season with a victory.
“It’s a home opener. Everyone’s 0-0,” said Hubbard. “Everyone has a ton of belief and being on the road is definitely a challenge for that. So, I think we have to be ready to go in and battle those emotional elements, especially after like a year and a half of not having fans and stuff at games. That’s going to be an adjustment for us on the road. You have got to battle that stuff. I think that’s something we’re going to have to overcome. If the game is close, we have to mentally get through that.”
After the battle with BU, UNH will head home to Wildcat Stadium where they boast a remarkable 34-1-5 record. Hubbard wants everyone in Durham to know that the Wildcats need their support in the stands after the season of empty seats last year.
“I think there’s a good chance that they’re going to be seeing a winning product.”
Photo courtesy of China Wong.