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December 02. 2013 10:20PM

Since Day 1, a focus on excellence for Penmen

MANCHESTER — There's a picture hanging in the Southern New Hampshire University men's soccer locker room taken just after the Penmen's season-ending 2-1 NCAA quarterfinal loss to Mercyhurst University last year at Larkin Field.

It's a picture showing the Penmen sad and depressed following the loss that left them two wins short of winning the national title.

"We hung that picture up during the pre-season and it's the first thing we see every time we enter our locker room," said former Manchester Central standout Yannick Kabala, now a junior midfielder for the Penmen. "It's served us throughout the year as a reminder of the feeling we had last year after losing to Mercyhurst."

Ten days ago, in dramatic fashion, the Penmen gained their revenge in a rematch of the NCAA quarters, beating the Lakers on their home field in Erie, Pa., with a 5-4 penalty kick decision.

The win clinched a berth to the NCAA Division II men's soccer championship, which begins Thursday at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Ga.

On Thursday at 5 p.m., No. 1 ranked Southern New Hampshire (21-1-0) will face No. 14 Rockhurst University of Kansas City (17-3-3). In the other semifinal game, Simon Fraser of British Columbia, Canada (18-2-2) will meet Carson-Newman (15-5-1) of Jefferson City, Tenn., in the 8 p.m. nigthtcap. The championship game is slated for Saturday at 3 p.m.

Last year, SNHU outplayed Mercyhurst, outshooting the Lakers 14-3.

"I thought we played very good for most of that game," said Kabala. "To leave that field losing to them just was very hard to accept. So we hung the picture and it has served as a motivational tool for us. I can tell you now that after we beat LIU Post (for the East Region final) we were hoping Mercyhurst would win its region so we could face them on their home field. We wanted to play them again."

But Kabala said beating Mercyhurst in the rematch wasn't the ultimate goal.

"This is my third year here and during my first two years we fell short, losing to Franklin Pierce my freshman season and last year to Mercyhurst," said Kabala. "We're not happy or satisfied about anything because we haven't won the one thing we've played for all year and that's the national title. That's our goal, to be national champions."

Kabala knows something about winning a championship. He was a member of the first Manchester Central team to win a state soccer title in 2009. The Little Green defeated Exeter 1-0 for the championship during Kabala's junior season.

Now he'd like to add a collegiate national team championship to his resume, something he's confident his team can accomplish.

"I remember we were losing 1-0 to LIU Post (in the East Region finals) and I looked into everyone's eyes on the field after they scored," said Kabala. "I didn't see anyone scared or act like we were going to lose the game. Everyone was calm and we came back to win. What I love about our team is we're confident we're going to win every game every time we take the field. It's a good feeling to have when you take the field."

jhabib@unionleader.com


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