RINDGE — It’s game night at Sodexo Field in Rindge, 25 years after the Franklin Pierce College women won their first national championship on the same grounds, then known as Crystal Field.
Since then, numerous tournament matches have been held here, and Saturday night’s clash features one of the top offensive teams in the country against one of the stingiest on defense.
The No. 18 nationally-ranked Franklin Pierce University men’s soccer team (13-3-2) will host an NCAA Division II Championship Tournament game for the first time since 2011. The Ravens will battle eighth-ranked Wilmington (Del.) University (17-2-1) in the Super Region 1 at Sodexo Field at 6 p.m. It’s a second-round match, with both squads having received first-round byes.
The contrasts are obvious: Wilmington has scored 91 goals this season, FPU has given up 12.
The last time the Ravens hosted a regional game was a 5-0 victory against Saint Thomas Aquinas College on Nov. 12, 2011. They eventually went on to lose 1-0 in the national semifinals to Lynn University that year. FPU last appeared in the NCAAs in 2016, when it suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to Merrimack College in the first round.
This is FPU’s 20th appearance overall in the NCAAs, which includes winning the Division II national championship in 2007.
For Wilmington, this marks the second consecutive year it has appeared in the regional and the fifth time the Wildcats have made the tournament.
Scouting the Ravens
FPU earned an at-large bid and the No. 4 seed in the Super Region 1 after finishing 13-3-2 in Coach Ruben Resendes’ first year at the helm. It went 9-0-1 on its home pitch.
FPU features one of the most dominant defensive units in the nation, led by Carlos Ferrando Felis, NCAA Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association All-East Region First Team and Northeast-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The Ravens have nine shutout victories on the season and have allowed only 12 goals all year with seven coming in conference play. They have allowed an average of (0.65) goals per game which ranks them 10th in Division II out of 212 programs.
On offense, graduate student Stefan Lohberger, an All-Conference First Team, member, ranks third in the conference in shots (60), is tied for third in goals (9), tied for fifth in points (20) and sixth in shots on goal (26). Also, team captain Niklas Laudahn, a region Second Team member and All-NE10 First Team honoree, has one goal and a persona-high five assists.
The goalkeeper tandem of senior Jadel Poon-Lewis and and graduate student Clay Thomas are near the top of the conference in many statistical categories. Poon-Lewis set a career-low in goals allowed (2) and goals-against average (0.31) and is atop the conference leaderboard in both categories. Thomas, a transfer from the University of Vermont, picked up right where he left off with the Catamounts. He ranks second behind his teammate in goals-against average (0.77) and third in goals allowed (9).
As a team, the Ravens’ offense ranks 21st (2.33 goals per game) in Division II.
Scouting the Wildcats
Wilmington enters the tournament as the No. 5 seed after finishing 17-2-1 in Coach Nick Papanicolas’ 16th season. It finished first in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference regular season before losing in the conference tournament semifinals.
Wilmington is led by junior forward Lorne Bickley, the East Region Player of the Year and CACC Player of the Year. Bickley leads the nation with 26 goals. Defensively, Wilmington’s Joe Bell was CACC Defensive Player of the Year and netminder Gabriel Prgomet earned Goalkeeper of the Year honors. Prgomet allowed 22 goals over the course of the year.
Odds and ends
Tonight will mark the fourth time these programs have met. The last match was 2013, a 2-1 double-overtime victory for Wilmington. Overall, the Ravens lead the series at 2-1-0. ... Tickets for tonight’s game are $8 for adults, $5 for children and seniors, $3 for students with ID and free for children under 2. ... The winner will advance to the third round against either No. 8 Post or No. 1 Adelphi, who also play tonight. The third round will be contested the weekend of Dec. 5-6.