Sentinel Opinion: For Franklin Pierce, winning a national title is all part of the program
Dec 4, 2022
Couresty of the Keene Sentinel, December 7, 2022
Worldwide, it’s called the beautiful game, with good reason. When played at an elite level, football — oops, soccer in the U.S. — transcends individualism while still celebrating it. The beautiful game is not 11 players on a pitch, it is a single unit of 11 parts moving as one. The perfect match draws out grace and flair, the stylistic differences of each player contributing to the aggregate objective of victory.
Those fortunate enough to have caught a Franklin Pierce University men’s soccer game this fall know they were witnessing soccer excellence. The numbers speak loudly enough.
The Ravens on Saturday brought their second national championship home to Rindge with their 2-0 title game win over Colorado State University-Pueblo. They set a NCAA Division II record with 25 victories in one season and outscored their opponents by a whopping 96-9. They went from Sept. 20 to Nov. 2 without giving up a goal. The only hint of a blemish was a scoreless draw against LeMoyne in September, but they avenged that with a 2-0 win in the Northeast-10 Conference tournament final.
Yet put the gaudy numbers aside, if you will, for they don’t necessarily reflect artistry.
Watching the Ravens was like watching soccer virtuosity, the way they controlled play with a short passing game, no more than two or three touches, the ball almost always on the ground. They patiently probed opposing defenses for weaknesses, then pounced aggressively and swiftly when an opening presented itself.
It takes special talent, camaraderie and trust to consistently pull it off at such a high level. Almost to a man, starting with 31-year-old Coach Ruben Resendes and his staff, they talked of that commitment to team and each other.
“It goes beyond soccer,” Resendes told Sentinel sportswriter Chris Detwiler, who was in Seattle along with photographer Hannah Schroeder to cover the College Cup last weekend. “It’s how close the group is off the field, and I think that’s the secret ingredient to the perfect soup to win it all.”
Like so many success stories, the buildup to this championship did not start with the first day of practice in August. Really, it can be traced back decades, to the 1990s, when the picturesque, rural college next to Pearly Pond committed to building not just good teams, but also an enduring program. That growth exploded with the success of the women’s soccer team, which won four straight national titles starting in 1994, and then another in 1999.
Lost somewhat in the euphoria of this year’s men’s team is just how great the women’s team performed. It went 16-4-3, reached the national quarterfinals and was one overtime goal away from joining the men in Seattle when it lost 2-1 to West Chester.
Almost all top teams in Division II rely on foreign players, and it’s been a boon for Franklin Pierce, not just on the pitch but in the classroom. Starting with those mighty women’s teams of the 1990s, whose collective academic GPAs were as impressive as their soccer talent, most players are superb students. Resendes says that’s true of this year’s group, the majority of whom come from Spain and Portugal. In turn, the players often say they relish the opportunity for an education in the U.S.
The men won their other national title in 2007 and have had only two losing seasons since then. This particular run began when Resendes was hired in 2019, and suffered through some heartbreaking season-ending losses. None hurt more than last year, when Millersville eliminated Franklin Pierce in the NCAA tournament’s third round on penalty kicks, perhaps the worst way to lose a soccer match.
This year’s team rolled through what’s annually a very competitive Northeast-10 Conference. It won its first two NCAA tournament matches convincingly but knew it would face its biggest test of the season when one-loss Charleston (West Virginia) came to Rindge. On a cold Saturday night before several hundred vocal fans, the Ravens dug deep to pull out a 1-0 win over a team that has two recent national titles, and reached the championship game last year.
Its coach, Daniel Smee, predicted in the immediate aftermath that Franklin Pierce would win it all.
Next year Franklin Pierce will be challenged to repeat, as it loses eight seniors and eight graduate students. But Braudilio Rodrigues, the Ron Lenz National Player of the Year (bestowed to the top men’s soccer student-athlete in the nation), is only a sophomore and a multitude of underclassmen were able to serve as understudies. Rodrigues scored 20 goals, one of 16 players to find the back of the net at least once.
There’s always a chance Resendes could move on to further his career — not unusual and the byproduct of success. Resendes says it’s well-known in college soccer circles that Franklin Pierce is one of the most desirable jobs in the Northeast, regardless of division, and that’s what brought him here.
Championship teams may last one year, but programs go on indefinitely. And in seasons when it all comes together perfectly, it is a beautiful game to watch.