NORTH ANDOVER – For Michael Rincon and the rest of the seniors on Merrimack’s men’s soccer team, this season represents one last chance to claim a title that has eluded them for the past two seasons.
In both 2012 and 2013, the Warriors have advanced to the Northeast-10 championship game. And in both seasons, they were edged by Southern New Hampshire. Both games were decided by only one goal.
It’s left a sour taste, but has also provided plenty of motivation.
“I think as seniors we know that it’s one last chance to (win the NE-10) and we need to take full advantage of it,” said Rincon, a senior captain. “We’re humble, and we need to remain humble, but our goal is to win every title that is put in front of us. It’s all on the table. For the seniors, this is our last chance to win, so there might be something extra there, but for our whole team, that is our goal. Everyone remembers how close we were last year and before that.”
Southern New Hampshire has not only ended Merrimack’s NE-10 title hopes the past two seasons, the Penmen also eliminated Merrimack from the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Last fall, after beating Merrimack in the NE-10 title game – the Warriors were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA field – SNHU went on to win the national championship.
“With (Southern New Hampshire), we always seem to fight with them all the way to the end. That’s the way those games have always gone. They’re a great team. It’s always a huge game against them. Things could go either way every time we play them. (In the NE-10 title game) we had a chance 15 minutes in, but we didn’t take advantage of it. If we put that away, you never know. We didn’t, and they took care of business so they won.”
Merrimack, which is undefeated through four games, will play SNHU on Oct. 8 at Martone-Mejail Field. Thus far the Penmen are also undefeated, sporting a 3-0 record.
“We are taking everything one game at a time,” Rincon said. “I know that will be a huge game, but we haven’t focused ahead of Bentley (on Tuesday) yet. If you win, you can go on and focus on the next game. We can’t start thinking about it. I think a lot of guys know that we can be a good team, but if you lose some games, you start going down and every game is important.”
Especially for Merrimack, whose non-conference schedule was ramped up a bit this season in an effort to help boost its regional ranking some NCAA selections later this fall.
Merrimack’s non-conference schedule has included teams like LIU Post, which was ranked No. 1 in the country most of last season and was ranked No. 8 nationally when the Warriors beat them, 3-2 in double-overtime, last Thursday.
“According to everyone, LIU Post is supposed to be better this year than they were last year, so that was a great test and a great win for us,” head coach Tony Martone said. “They are a team that will challenge for a national title, so to play them and deserve an OT win, it was great for our program. It shows where we’re at.
“Our philosophy (with non-conference scheduling) is simple: we want to play the best teams that will play us. If we have ambitions to play into the NCAAs, these are the teams you have to compete with. You need to try to play the best.”
The Warriors are 4-0, winning the Marriott Kickoff Classic it hosted on Labor Day weekend as well as the Bridgeport Tournament this past weekend.
“(The tournaments) are new this year,” Rincon said. “In past years we only had the tournament at Merrimack. To us, the season really starts when we play our league teams, but after last year guys know how important it is to play these other teams. It’s huge for us when it comes to NCAAs. It was also good to win, I think we’re confident. We were playing teams down at Bridgeport that we haven’t faced, and these are the teams we will play in the NCAAs if we can make it, so it was important to see where we were against them.”
Merrimack’s offense has been stellar, with the Warriors averaging three goals per game. The 12 total goals the team has scored have come off the feet of nine different players, displaying Merrimack’s incredible depth up front.
Rincon is leading the team in scoring with six points.
“We aren’t reliant on one player,” Rincon said. “It’s a team thing. Everyone is scoring goals. We have two center-backs with two goals. Our wingers have a lot of assists. As a team, we don’t know who it will be to score for us that day, but it has always been someone. We’re not going into games thinking that we need a forward to really do some magic, it’s a team effort.”
The Warriors open conference play on Tuesday night at Bentley. They’ll return home on Saturday to host St. Michael’s in the NE-10 home opener.
Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike is also on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN