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Men's Soccer: UNH going toe-to-toe with the best

UNH Insider

November 22. 2017 10:10PM
UNH back Willis Griffith, of Amherst, looks upfield earlier this season. The Wildcats take on Indiana this Sunday in the third round of the NCAA tournament. (Courtesy photo)

DURHAM — University of New Hampshire men’s soccer coach Marc Hubbard, a Durham native in his third year as head coach, has made no secret of his goal for the group: compete for and win the NCAA Division I championship.

The Wildcats are making a run at a title.

They qualified for the NCAA tournament for only the second time in school history, won the program’s first tournament game and have now advanced to the second round for the first time.

UNH played Dartmouth to a 0-0 result on Sunday — it officially goes down as a tie — and moves on to a third-round match at Indiana University on Saturday night at 7.

That’s Indiana University, the No. 2 seed in the tournament: As in the only undefeated team in the nation at 16-0-5; as in eight-time national champion IU; as in a team that has qualified for the NCAA tournament a whopping 31 straight seasons; as in a team that has scored 45 goals in 21 games this season and allowed four. Four goals total.

And, oh yes, it’s a Hoosier team that’s on a mission as well.

“If you’re looking at record in the national tournament and history of success, they have both,” Hubbard said. “Huge tradition. The pressure’s more on them than us to win. We have a couple of games in the tournament. Two different types of games. For us to play a team again like Dartmouth and get the result, that’s really exciting. To play a new team I think bodes well for us. We like to play against a new style and a team that hasn’t really scouted us as much.”

The Wildcats have a bit of a unique scouting report on Indiana.

UNH back Willis Griffith of Amherst played against the Hoosiers twice last season. Plus, Wildcat assistant coach Simeon Steward played at Louisville for Brian Maisonneuve, who is now the associate head coach at Indiana.

Griffith started his collegiate career with two seasons at Villanova and then transferred to Northwestern of the Big 10. Two years ago, he broke his foot three days into his first season and had to sit out the year.

He started every game at Northwestern last season and graduated from the school with a degree in political science. He had a year of eligibility remaining and had the opportunity to come back home to play at UNH, where he’s working on a graduate degree in public policy.

Griffith played against Indiana twice in Bloomington last season, his team tying 0-0 in the regular season and losing 1-0 in overtime in the Big 10 tournament.

“I think it is a good advantage having a couple of people with experience out at IU with myself and coach Simeon,” Griffith said. “Just being able to go and recognize that they have the pep band out there the entire game making a ton of noise and we’re going to get heckled worse than we’ve been heckled all year, right on top of us on the field. It’s a really great place to play, but it’s a really difficult place to play with a different style of soccer than we’ve seen so far this year. We’ve kind of figured that out collectively through film, but I think some of my experience will help additionally on top of that.”

The game will be played on Jerry Yeagley Field, named after the legendary Indiana coach and father of current Hoosier coach Todd Yeagley.

“I think we’ve got some good clues on how to get the job done,” said Griffith, who has scored three goals this season. “They have set the precedent for the country. They’ve been a phenomenal program for many years. The father/son coaching staff passed down, so it’s a real dynasty. But we’re not afraid to go in there and we look forward to it.”

The Wildcats are excited about the challenge.

“It’s exactly what we want to do,” Hubbard said. “Willis shared some insights with the guys. Tough place to play. Very physical team. We’ve got to be ready to bump a little bit and be ready for 50-50s and be ready to play quicker than usual. We still want to play the way we want to play, but we’ve got to be ready to be under a little bit more pressure than we are usually.”

Indiana and UNH have the two highest ranking defenses of teams in the tournament. The Hoosiers have given up .177 goals a game and UNH is at .444.

Trey Muse, a 6-foot-4 freshman, has 17 shutouts in his 21 games for Indiana.

UNH senior Andrew Pesci has 12 shutouts. The Wildcats have allowed only 11 goals while scoring 31. Grad student Robin Schmidt has scored eight goals in his 15 games.

“We’ve got to be defensively stingy like we have been all year and sort of match their physicality and be ready to track and defend more than we have ever this year,” Hubbard said. “We know if we’re going to go in there and get a win it’s not going to be a blowout. You’ve got to hedge your bets and pick your moments and defend for 90 minutes.”

The Hoosiers, incidentally, have not trailed in a game this season.

And the piece of the story about them being on a mission?

Despite their record and success, they did not win either the Big 10 regular season or tournament championship.

The winner of the game advances to a quarterfinal match against the winner of Saturday’s Western Michigan at Michigan State match.