The Merrimack men’s soccer team has been close time and time again, but despite being within reach of championships multiple times over the last three seasons, the trophy case remains empty.
The 2016 Merrimack men’s soccer team is looking to change that.
Three seasons ago, the Warriors found themselves in the Northeast-10 championship game, falling to Southern New Hampshire in the finals and then missing out on the NCAA Tournament, some thought unjustly.
Two seasons ago the Warriors bowed out of the league tournament in the semifinals and advanced to the NCAA East Regional final, falling short against LIU Post. Then last season, Merrimack again fell short in the NE-10 semifinals and was ousted by SNHU in the NCAA second round.
There’s a group of eight seniors on this team, and they’ve been around for all of the past three years. Now, as senior tri-captain Joseph Briers puts it, they’re ready to win something.
Second place isn’t an option for this group.
“Last year wasn’t enough,” Briers said. “We were second in the NE-10 in the regular season and then we weren’t happy losing in the semifinals. We’re ready to win something. There are a lot of us graduating. The hunger is there. Our focus is winning something. That’s what we want to do this year and we think we’re ready to do it.”
The Warriors have had three preseason games to prep for the year and will open this Thursday (7 p.m.) when they host Caldwell in the first round of the Merrimack Kickoff Classic at Martone-Mejail Field. That event will also be the first on the athletic calendar for Merrimack during the 2016-17 season.
With such a large contingent of returnees, the Warriors bring back eight of 11 starters off a team that finished second in the NE-10 regular season last fall.
“The new players have adopted our style very good early in the preseason,” said Briers. “With eight of 11 starters coming back, there is already good chemistry. What we are focused on now is putting what we’ve been doing in practice into games and they start for real next week.
“Coach (Tony Martone) has a 4-3-3 style and we want to play possession soccer,” Briers continued. “Coach will go through tactics on the board, but we want to hold possession. A lot of the new players have played different formations in high school, and this is a big step up at the college level, but it’s going well.”
The Northeast-10 is one of the toughest conferences in the nation at Division II. SNHU is traditionally one of the best in the country, winning the national championship in 2013. Adelphi has also climbed the ranks in recent seasons along with the Warriors.
Merrimack was selected third in the NE-10 coaches poll, behind SNHU and Adelphi, despite entering the season with a national ranking (No. 19).
“A lot of the teams in the NE-10 can put themselves against a lot of DI teams and give them a good game,” Briers said. “SNHU is always at the top. Adelphi always gives us a good, close game. That game (against Adelphi) in the semifinals last year was really a disappointment for us. We just haven’t made that final step and we want to win that championship this year.”
Over the last three season, Merrimack has posted a record of 43-13-6. Since 2012, the year before the current senior class arrived, the Warriors have established themselves as one of the top teams in the region.
Briers said the growth of the program in his three seasons has been noticeable.
“The maturity of the team has grown year by year,” Briers said. “I think we just know what to expect. The coaches preach that we play for 90 minutes here. There are a lot of games where maybe you think you can play 60 minutes and then step on the gas for the last 30, but not here. That’s not what we do.”
If these Warriors have their way, they’ll be playing a full 90 minutes well into the month of November as part of the NE-10 and NCAA postseason.