While it may be early in the school year, it is never too early to check in with the Keene State College Men’s Soccer Team.
At the halfway point this season, the Owls jumped to a fast start with a record of 6-3 (2-0), and grabbed wins in their first two conference games of the year.
In the first nine games of the season, the team has already been involved in three overtime games. This includes a double overtime thriller against Springfield on Sept. 5; the Owls won 2-1.
Most years, teams won’t play this many overtime games in a whole season, though every year is different, and this team has shown resiliency.
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“Do we like to play overtime? Of course not, it takes a toll on your body, but when you come out on top, it’s great. Luckily, we’ve been able to win three of them this year,” Head Coach Ron Butcher said. “If you are willing to accept any other result besides winning, then you probably shouldn’t play the game and I think right now they have that attitude.”
Butcher is entering his forty-second year with the KSC program and looks to continue his historic success as he came into the season fifth on the list of all-time wins by a men’s head soccer coach. With six wins this year, his total victories stand at 584, along with six LEC crowns.
“I would say no matter who you are as a coach, if you don’t have good players, you don’t have good teams,” Butcher said. “If you are a great coach and have bad players it doesn’t matter what you try and do, you can only do so many things. You can only coach a team to be in every game.”
KSC has certainly seen its fair share of good players, accumulating 69 all-LEC players since 1997. This year is no different.
Led by senior captains Kyle Leavitt and Blake Nyman, the team has brought in a strong freshman class and should receive contributions from just about everyone.
One thing remains constant: there is no shortage of leadership on this squad.
Junior forward Brian Swindell said, “Everyone sees the captains as leaders. They are really pushing everyone through, and the team really plays off how they act. They set the bar high for any leadership role next year.”
Butcher added, “Good captains are worth one or two victories a year and I think we have two pretty good ones.”
Leavitt shared his opinion on what the team needs to work on.
“We need to come out stronger. We conceded a lot of early goals and I think the majority of the games we played, win or lose, we let the other team come out and score first and that needs to change,” Leavitt added. “We need to come out right at the start of the whistle and put teams away early, we are letting them stick around too long.”
Leavitt is known for setting guys up and already has five assists this year.
“I just like being a playmaker and in my eyes a goal and an assist is the same thing, it’s just as important,” Leavitt said.
He added, “I just try and put myself in a good position where I can help my teammates out.”
While Leavitt leads the team in dishing assists, Swindell currently leads the team in scoring with three goals.
Swindell is recovering from surgery to remove a metal plate after breaking his leg freshman year. The road back has not been easy.
“I didn’t play soccer all summer long until I came here for pre-season. I was going in for rehab two or three times a week along with physical therapy so I had to have patience. It was rough and it has been killing me to get back out there,” Swindell said.
Swindell had the game-winning header in the overtime victory against Southern Maine and said he is starting to get his rhythm back on the field.
“I’ve been getting to myself and being my own worst enemy. Getting that icebreaker goal during the game against Worcester State really set me at ease and took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Swindell said.
Butcher is certainly happy to see Swindell on the field.
“Like I say, the feel good stories are what coaching is about. You feel so happy that the kid worked so hard to get where is he right now and it is paying off for him,” Butcher said.
It is safe to say both players and coaches will have Oct. 6 circled on their calendars as the team is slated to go up against Eastern Connecticut, who they lost to 1-0 in last year’s LEC final.
“I have a bitter taste in my mouth losing 1-0 on a penalty kick called in the first five minute of the game,” Leavitt said.
Swindell added, “We are looking to get some revenge, We have them at home this year so we are really hoping to take it to them this time.”
The team will look to build off the first half of the season as they come down the home stretch and strive to continue their early success.
You can catch the KSC men’s soccer team in action next on Oct. 6, 1 p.m., against Eastern Connecticut State University.
Jay McAree can be contacted at