If college life were a soccer match, Keene State College seniors would be playing the last, most exciting minutes of the game. The clock is ticking and every chance to score might be the last one. As graduation day gets closer, senior athletes from the men’s and women’s soccer teams reflected on their last season with the Owls, shared future plans and explained how varsity-level competition and being part of a team have impacted their college experiences. Thousands of minutes on the field, countless bus drives, pre-season workouts and wins and losses have all made these athletes become a family. “It is a family away from home,” senior forward Scott Douglas said.
Malcolm Cheney, goalkeeper and senior captain, agreed with Douglas. “Some of my greatest friends in life play soccer for Keene State [College],” the goalie said. In fact, being varsity athletes allowed many of the seniors to build a social life right from the beginning of their college careers.
“It was a lot easier to come in as a freshman and already have a solid group of friends, with common interests,” Kelsie Bailey, one of the senior captain for the women’s soccer team, said.
The group of friends, however, goes beyond just soccer players. According to senior women’s captain Haley Kenyon, interaction with other teams helps athletes “broaden your circle of friends.” “You see each other at the gym, you have similar schedules and hang out with them all the time,” Kenyon said.
But building strong relationships has not been the only plus, the seniors said. Playing competitively for four years has had a positive impact in other respects. “It has kept me on the right path, it has made me academically responsible, and also helped me be in good shape,” Cheney said. “It definitely helped me with time management and it has taught me to stay focused and get the work done,” Douglas said.
Moreover, senior defender Catherine Falcone said being part of the women’s soccer team, “really shaped who I am, who I have become in the past years.”
Four years of excitement for KSC varsity athletes, days of victory and days of adversity, will turn into memories as they walk in a cape and gown this May. A brotherhood defined by a shared love for the sport is closing. Athletes said they’re experiencing mixed feelings as they see their last season finish. “It’s definitely bittersweet to see my days of competitive soccer over,” Cheney said. Still, the seniors said they have no regrets.
“I’ve loved everything. I wouldn’t take anything back from my past four years,” Bailey said.
“I wouldn’t change a thing. I had fun, played the sport that I love and I was around good company,” Douglas said.
Last season gave the seniors the opportunity to act as leaders for their younger teammates. The men’s soccer team had five senior players and the women’s soccer team had eight. “Every senior played a big role. Each of us brought something different to the table, but it was all positive,” senior forward Brian Swindell said.
Bailey said the seniors’ priority was to act as motivators and promote team unity. “We tried keep the team spirit up and to set a good example, so that way these younger kids can look up to any of the eight of us [seniors] and not only the captains,” Bailey said.
The senior Lady Owls ended their college careers on a high note—the team won the Little East Conference (LEC) and made the NCAA tournament after nine years. The NCAA tournament features the best 64 teams in the country. Coach Denise Lyons described this past season as the best season in the past four years. “I couldn’t be happier with how the team did this year. All the girls put in hard work and passion and were able to achieve great things. They made it to the second round of the NCAA, that’s something huge,” Lyons said.
Making the NCAA tournament is a dream come true for some of the Owls. “It is something we have strived for since freshman year,” Falcone said.
Bailey said, “I have dreamed about it since I was a little girl.” On the other hand, the men’s soccer team struggled through the entire season. The Owls started the year with a record of 0-5. Swindell said, “There were games when we were doing things right, but there was always a missing element that kept us from winning.” The team managed to make the LEC tournament, but lost in the semifinal against Umass Dartmouth.
Cheney reflected on the Owls’ performance, and explained that the season taught the players to face adversity and respond to it in a positive way. “Considering wins and loses, this was my worst year. On-field success wasn’t there for us but we never got down on ourselves,” Cheney stated. The goalie said it was a learning experience for the seniors. “We weren’t really used to losing. We had to be able to motivate some of the underclassmen and say, ‘You know, you don’t want to be in this situation again, so make sure you really pick up yourself and work hard,’” Cheney said.
Men’s coach Ron Butcher recognized that the season was tough for his team. However, the coach said he believes that seniors leave the college with a greater legacy from KSC athletics than just a career in soccer. Butcher has been the main man standing on the side of the Owls for over four decades. He stepped down at the end of the season, leaving coach Rick Scott in charge of the team. “A record doesn’t tell you everything about a team,” Butcher stated. The coach said the graduating athletes will walk in May with a set of skills that go beyond sporting talent. “There is much more in college soccer than winning or losing. There is much more than playing. It’s about the learning experience, shaping your character, being able to manage your time, set a goal and work hard towards it.”
Cheney agreed with Butcher. “We were taught that winning isn’t everything. After four years you come out with a degree, with life-long friends and with countless learning experiences. And that’s what I have now.” After the fall season ended, some seniors said they will end their careers at a competitive level and pursue other dreams. “There is no more competitiveness for me after this,” Bailey said. Bailey is a biology major and said she wants to go into the health field.
Kenyon said she intends to find a job with an architecture firm, and also look into coaching “my old high school team or a college team, just to stay with the sport, because I do love it a lot.” Similarly, most seniors from the men’s team said they plan to stay close to the sport that they have loved for years. “I think I might look into coaching a team at some point,” Cheney said. Swindell said he has considered the possibility of playing competitively after graduation. “I have been looking at a semi-pro league in the area,” Swindell stated.
Douglas said he is not sure about his plans for the future playing-wise. However, he said he would be interested in trying to pursue a career in soccer in a competitive league. Butcher spoke about Douglas and said, “Because of his skill and his speed, he could try out for professional leagues. Scotty has been a star since his freshman year.”
Looking at the next season, seniors shared advice with the younger Owls. Bailey advised her teammates to work together and keep the coherence of the team. “When you lose eight leaders in a team, it’s going to be tough, but the only way to get through is to work together. In soccer, you can’t do anything individually because there are eleven of you on the field,” Bailey said.
Swindell recommended dedication and hard work all year long to athletes. “Offseason training really helps more than anyone can see,” he said. Kenyon said, “Play every game as if it would be your last one. It goes by really quickly and you don’t realize until you are a senior and you don’t have anymore years to play.” After graduation, a four-year era that players said felt like 90 minutes will come to an end. No penalties, no overtime and as Bailey said—definitely no regrets. Now the seniors have the tools to face the next match: life after college. For these Owls, it’s a challenge accepted.
“I’m happy with what we have achieved, with the success, now I’m ready to move on,” Cheney said. So let the game begin.
Karina Barriga Albring can be contacted at email@example.com